PIC BY TDWSPORT.COM
Within an hour of his emphatic victory in the Saint Etienne time trial, Lance Armstrong, clad in the maillot jaune, was holding court in the Tour de France press room in front of the world's media - for one last time. This is the tradition of the Tour and Sunday's final stage is not followed by a press conference, but instead by wild celebrations as the Tour comes to an end. Here's a sample of what the soon-to-be seven-time Tour winner said..
On his stage win:
It's nice to finish a career on a high note, not just in terms of the stage but for the overall. There was no pressure to this victory; it was something that I had within myself as a sportsman. I wanted to go out on top so that was the only incentive and the only pressure.
On his plans for July 2006:
What will I do next July? I suppose I'll be around the Tour a little bit, but my intention is not to remain a public figure for the next few years. I need a period of quiet and peace and privacy. I suppose next July I will be within the team, bothering Johan and begging for rides in the car, talking to him about the race and the tactics and about how our riders are doing. I can promise you one thing, I will be parked in front of the TV, watching the Tour de France. I am a fan of cycling, but I think that the 2006 Tour will be very interesting from a tactical standpoint, from a personal standpoint, it will be a very different race and I want to see what happens.
On his decision to retire:
As a matter of fact I am more convinced [that I have made the right decision to stop] now than I have ever been. Absolutely no regrets. I have had an unbelievable career; I have been blessed to ride for 14 years as a professional; I've been blessed to win some big bike races before my illness and to win seven Tours after the illness; I've been blessed with financial reward that I never thought was going to be possible, that makes my life and my children's lives very comfortable now - there's no reason to continue, I don't need more. It's time for a new face, time for a new story. No regrets - I will live vicariously through the others and the others might be our team, it might be a future champion like Ivan Basso, but I will simply watch from afar.
On whether he could win and eighth Tour:
That wouldn't be fair to say but what's the classification? Four minutes and 40 seconds to second place. Nobody can tell you what happens year after year. You turn 34, you turn 35, the others make a big step up and when your age catches up you make a big step down. So next year, if I continued, could be the year that I lose by five minutes. But we're never going to know. It's nice to win one with a big cushion and to say that you out with a good sporting performance, but it wouldn't be fair to next year's winner, to say 'You're lucky I didn't show up, you're lucky I retired'. I'm not going to say that. Let's just watch next year's race and let the champion be the champion and watch them start a new streak.
On the frenzy of fans and media that follow him around the Tour:
I think that would wear on anybody. But that's part and parcel of winning this great event and of being a person who's overcome and survived a life-threatening illness, and then participated in and won a very famous event. If I came back and won the ping pong world championships, there wouldn't be a bus outside and there wouldn't be a frenzy. But that's not the way it is - I was lucky enough to live and lucky enough to find my way here and ultimately lucky enough to win seven. So I have to take that part of the job in my stride but I'm also no fool and I know that people forget about sports people, and there's a new face and a new name and a new story in a year or two. So I have both feet on the ground and I know that my time is up, so I don't crave attention and I don't crave autographs. I know that there are people that come to the Tour to see a person, or perhaps a phenomenon, because they're struggling, or they're sick or their family member's sick. But the person who can help them the most is themselves or their doctor. I just try to be the person that was lucky and that believed he would get better and that he would make it back to life.
On his racing style in the 2005 Tour:
It's true that I attack less, but if you look at the last few years I have attacked less. In 2003 I wasn't able to attack. Last year, I got a lot of stage victories, many of them were with other groups, and they were not really attacks. But it's interesting that in this sport if you attack too much and win too many stages, they say you're being arrogant and hogging up all the victories - if you don't win enough they stick a microphone in Johan's face and say 'He has no panache. He hasn't won.' Well what is it? I came with the intention to do one thing and that's to win the overall, and if I got five times second (in stages) that's OK. The one event I was sure I wanted to win was the team time trial. I would have been a lot more disappointed with second place there than with second place today. We got that and we got a stage victory today, but doesn't give or take panache. Seven Tours gives or takes panache. We can't win when it comes to those debates, but the Tour is also about riding consistently and you see many riders who attack all the time - Johan and I were sitting down one night and we said, 'You know how many attacks it takes to win the Tour de France? One - one attack and two good time trials - Tour finished.' So we stuck with that and it worked.
On life after the Tour:
Come Monday morning, we're going to wake up in Paris, and the kids, Sheryl and I and a close group of friends and family are going to fly to the south of France and enjoy ourselves for a week, and lay on the beach and drink wine and not ride a bike and eat a lot of food and swim in the pool and splash around with my kids - and not worry about a thing. This job is stressful and this event is stressful and hopefully it will be a week's preview of what my life might be like for the next 50 years, with no stress.
On his rivals in the 2005 Tour:
I was always matched when it came to the mountains, and if you consider Courchevel the first big test, finishing with three or four guys, that for me was a tough day. The other days in the Alps there were no more uphill finishes; the rest of the days in the Pyrenees I was matched by Ivan or Jan, so for me the pressure was always on. There were no moments like in 2001 or 2002 when I rode away alone. Ivan proved that he's a great climber and perhaps the future of this race, at least for the next few years.
On how he will now channel his energies:
I can't promise that I won't show up at a few cyclo-cross races and a few mountain bike races, and a few triathlons and a few 10k runs. I'm an athlete - I've been an athlete my entire life. I began running and swimming competitively when I was 12 years old. It's not as if I'm going to sit around and be a fat slob now, I have to do something. And with exercise it's nice to set goals. Why couldn't I take a couple of years and say, let's do a marathon and see how fast I can do it? I'm a competitive person, but I don't need to do it in a big-time sport, I don't need to come back and do the Ironman in two years - although I've thought about it..
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