PIC BY TDWSPORT.COM
Lance Armstrong got straight to the point at Monday's press conference in front of some 200 gathered members of the media in Augusta, Georgia: this year's Tour de France will be the last race of his professional career.
The rumours that he'd announce his engagement to girlfriend Sheryl Crow, or decide to ride the Tour of Italy, were mowed down just moments into his speech. "I'll cut right to the chase," Armstrong said after thanking the attendees at the Radisson hotel, the day before he attempts to defend his crown at the Tour de Georgia. "After a lot of thought, I've decided to focus on the Tour, but the Tour de France will be my last race as a professional cyclist.
"I've spent 14 years in the professional peloton, and this will be my last Tour - win or lose," Armstrong said, with more than a hint of emotion in his voice. "But I'm fully committed to trying to win a seventh Tour."
Starting with his children - "my biggest inspiration in my life now, and the biggest inspiration for making this decision" - the Texan went on to thank a host of people for his successful career: his mother, his teams' sponsors and partners, his Discovery Channel team directeur sportif Johan Bruyneel, all of his team-mates, and Crow.
"And lastly, the team of 10 million cancer survivors around the country, who have been very powerful," Armstrong said. "At certain times in my life, I've relied on them - a special force that I've been able to fall back on. Not only do they inspire me, but hopefully I can inspire them."
Armstrong went back to Bruyneel time and time again, calling him "the greatest sports director of all time having directed six Tours and won six Tours".
"He came along in 1998 and told me I could do it," Armstrong said, adding later that the two became "very close, very quickly", and that "some people you're just meant to be with. I was very, very lucky to find this guy".
Despite July 24 being his last day as a wage-earning cyclist, Armstrong expressed his desire to stay involved with Bruyneel and the team, hoping to nurture another American talent, singling out team-mate Tom Danielson.
"To be successful, we [the US] need strong, well-funded teams. Tom Danielson, for example, came through a domestic programme, and although perhaps he may not be able to win the Tour, he's one of the best talents out there. And maybe I can help the young riders, too, maybe even riding with them," Armstrong continued, perhaps still finding it hard to accept that he will soon be hanging up his wheels - the professional ones, at least.
The question of whether, both physically and mentally, Armstrong has what it takes to win a seventh Tour remains. "Winning seven Tours will not be a record. OK, it will be the continuation of a record," Armstrong said, "but it doesn't have the same cachet as six did.
"But I still go out on the six-hour training rides and come back having loved it. The passion and will to win is still there."