Earlier this morning Lance Armstrong confirmed not only that this
year’s Tour de France will be his last, but it will also be his
farewell race as a professional cyclist.

Armstrong’s retirement has been anticipated, but the timing in
interesting. He could have kept everybody guessing until after
this year’s race, or waited until the eve of the big event to
dramatically announce that the Tour would be his professional
swansong. But given the way Armstrong’s reputation is currently
under siege, perhaps the timing is not so strange.

By informing the world of his decision well in advance he removes a lot
of pressure building up from continuing speculation. But it also
comes at a time when his career has never been more in question after a
series of drug allegations in a sport he has dominated with a record six
straight Tour wins.

Armstrong has been forced to defend his integrity and has entered into
litigation over the as yet unsubstantiated doping allegations from
former disaffected associates and other circumstantial links that have
cast a shadow over his momentous record. Meanwhile, he has become
regular tabloid fodder since splitting with his second wife and taking
up with singer Sheryl Crow.

While at 33, even if he does win a seventh straight Tour, there has
been too much mud flung in the past couple of years that while the
record books will show him to be the greatest rider in the history of
the world’s most famous bike race, few pundits rate him the best ever.

Unlike some of the great champions of the past, irrespective of any
dope talk, he’s never raced on the road as a man for all seasons.
That is, competed against the best throughout the regular professional
European season while accumulating his Tour glory. Instead he has
meticulously planned his whole European campaigns around peaking for
just one race – not that there’s anything wrong with that. But
it’s indisputably allowed him the liberty of priceless non-competitive
rest to help break the records of others who didn’t confine themselves
to such selective racing.

But regardless of how cycling experts and ultimately even the courts
will view the slurs on his record, no one can take away his almost
miraculous comeback after being given only a 20% chance of surviving
testicular cancer before he won his first Tour de France, and has gone
on to become one of the most celebrated athletes in the world.

“Ultimately, athletes have to retire … the body doesn’t just keep
going and going,” Armstrong said of his decision to quit racing.

Unfortunately the various on-going investigations by authorities or law
suits linked to either Armstrong or associates, means in more ways than
one, the jury is still out as to how this champion will be ultimately
viewed by history.

You can read about his announcement here.

Peter Fray

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