Armstrong might hit brakes on competing in 2005 Tour

Nearing 6th straight win, he's leaving options open Tour De France

July 24, 2004|By Bonnie DeSimone | Bonnie DeSimone,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

LONS-LE-SAUNIER, France - Anyone craving a lull in the action at the 2004 Tour de France was in for disappointment yesterday.

Lance Armstrong did not win Stage 18, ending his streak of stage wins at three, but he caused a stir both on and off the road.

Although the International Herald Tribune reported yesterday that the soon-to-be-six-time champion had told Tour officials he would not be back next year, Armstrong said he is leaving his options open, and Tour director Jean Marie Leblanc said he has had no contact with Armstrong or his team.

"I'm not saying I would never do it again," Armstrong said. "Absolutely, I'll do it again before I stop."

Armstrong said he would not make a decision until later this year and would consult with Tour officials and with his team's new sponsor, Discovery Communications.

"We have a new sponsor, and the Tour is the biggest race in the world, and I have to discuss it with them," Armstrong said. "If they were to give me the green light on [skipping the Tour], I might do it. But if they say, `Lance, we want you to do the Tour,' I understand that, too."

Discovery spokesman David Leavy told The Sun, "We're all focused on him winning this race and Sunday's final time trial. Any discussion about 2005 is premature, but it is certainly Discovery's hope that Lance will race next year and for years to come."

In the Tour de France?

"It's just too premature to discuss 2005," Leavy said.

Armstrong said he has other goals in cycling, including possibly pursuing the world hour record and doing other classic races, but has a hard time picturing himself idle in July.

"It's too hard to say, to ask on the third-to-last day. Everybody is so tired, you never want to come back," he said. "But you get into December and there's only one thing I can think about - that's the Tour."

Armstrong didn't look terribly tired yesterday as he bolted from the peloton to chase down Filippo Simeoni, who went out alone at about the 20-mile mark to pursue a breakaway during a stage won by Spain's Juan Miguel Mercado.

Mercado was part of a group of six low-ranked cyclists who ended up 11 minutes ahead of Armstrong and the rest of the main pack of riders. Overall, Armstrong remained 4:09 ahead of second-place Ivan Basso.

The sight of the man in the yellow jersey chasing in a stage that was not expected to be contested by any overall contenders was odd, but the move involved had more personal than competitive reasons.

Simeoni testified against Dr. Michele Ferrari, Armstrong's consultant of some years, in Ferrari's trial in Italy on charges of providing banned substances to cyclists. It's a case that has dragged on for three years. A judge is scheduled to hand down a verdict this fall.

"I was protecting the interests of the peloton," Armstrong said. "He is not a rider the peloton wants to be up front because all he does is attack the peloton and say bad things about the other riders and the group in general. When I finally came back, I had a lot of riders pat me on the back, saying thank you.

"All he wants to do is destroy cycling and the sport that pays him. To me, that's not correct."

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. Sun staff writer John Eisenberg contributed to this article.

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