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Giro finale
Photo ©: Bettini

Special Edition Cycling News for December 18, 2003

Edited by Chris Henry

Armstrong says two more years

By Edward Felker

Photo: © Bill Emery
Click for larger image

Five-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong told a Washington, D.C. audience on Wednesday that he expects to ride two more Tours, the first time he has revealed his intent to ride past the 2004 season.

"Probably two more, one in '04 and '05," said Armstrong, to gasps, in response to a question about future Tour goals posed to him after his speech on cancer research at the National Press Club. Armstrong turned 32 this September and would be 33 during the 2005 Tour, making him one of the rare older champions if he were to win that year.

Only two riders 33 or older have won the Tour since World War II: Italian Gino Bartali, 34, in 1948, and Dutchman Joop Zoetemelk, 33, in 1980. Among the five-time winners club, Armstrong and Miguel Indurain each won their fifth at age 31, Indurain's in 1995. The oldest winner in Tour history is Firmin Lambot, a Belgian, who was 36 when he won his second Tour in 1922.

Armstrong downplayed questions concerning the departure of superclimber Roberto Heras to Manolo Saiz' new Liberty Seguros team and whether the loss would hurt his 2004 campaign.

"I don't think it's going to have too big of an impact," Armstrong said. He said his US Postal Service-Berry Floor squad continues to have a "deep team" that is being bolstered by the recent signing of 30 year old Jose Azevedo of Portugal.

While calling Heras a "great rider," he recalled the times the Spaniard had to dig deep in the Tour's tough mountain stages during his 2001-2003 USPS tenure.

"Roberto always struggled with the Tour. He was never... He was there for three years. He did win the Vuelta this year and did some other great races. But he had a hard time in the Tour de France on this team. I would challenge anybody to find five or six really big days over three years."

He said the team considers Heras a good friend, but also revealed that he urged him to make the move to Liberty Seguros. "He got a great opportunity and we told him to take it. Really there's no hard feelings, and I like the group we have."

2005 and beyond?
Photo: © J. Devich

As he has repeatedly, he recognized 1997 tour winner Jan Ullrich as his chief 2004 Tour rival, calling him "clearly motivated to come back," and noting Ullrich's return to the former Telekom team, T-Mobile. "He is the most dangerous person out there," Armstrong said.

Asked which one of the Tour's stages an American should watch on television, the answer came quickly. "If you had to watch just one day? The time trial up Alpe d'Huez. That's definitely the day to watch. That's the day I'd be watching- not that I won't be there!"

Armstrong's appearance was his second at the National Press Club as a featured luncheon speaker, a role reserved for national newsmakers.

He first spoke just after his first Tour victory in 1999. His speech Wednesday was with another public figure who has battled cancer, Hamilton Jordan, who was a top aide and chief of staff to American President Jimmy Carter during his 1977-1981 term. Jordan is also the founder of the Georgia Cancer Coalition, one of the sponsors of the Tour de Georgia race, which Armstrong hopes to ride in 2004.

They released statistics showing Americans fear cancer more than any other threat, including terrorism, and that the public favors more cancer research spending by the federal government.

In a possible foreshadowing that politics may be part of his post-cycling career, Armstrong called on President George Bush and the challengers in the Democratic Party to make increased cancer research funding one of their campaign promises.

Still, Armstrong declined to predict his personal future. He said that during his 1996-1997 testicular cancer treatment and recovery, he resolved not to spend much time making long-term plans.

"I don't know what I'm going to do in 2006 and I'm proud to say I absolutely know what I'm going to do in 2004. And I'm proud to say that in those (future) years I'll continue to do things like this. But there's no promises and there's no pressure and there's no stress related to that... The most I'll commit to is being a T-ball coach."

He also offered hope to future American cycling fans that his son Luke, 4, may follow in his tire tracks. "He's like me. He cannot play anything with a ball: baseball, football... I was his soccer coach this year; he's like me."

Team seeks sponsorship beyond 2004

With Lance Armstrong looking beyond 2004 in his cycling career, attention turns also to the future of the US Postal Service team, which is currently assured support from title sponsor USPS through 2004 only. Team sources tell Cyclingnews that Armstrong's contemplation of riding in 2005 have helped prompt team owner/manager Tailwind Sports to seek a three year sponsorship contract renewal.

Among the considerations for continued sponsorship, besides Armstrong's involvement with the team, are the implications of entry into the UCI's planned Top Club competition in 2005. Under planned restructuring by the UCI, 20 teams to be included in the new Top Club division, the most elite level in the sport, will be required to field a team in all three grand tours, and create (if one does not already exist) a Division III development team.

The UCI's planned development of a new Pro Tour is designed to create more of a league structure for the top international teams, assuring consistent participation by the best teams in the biggest events.

US Postal Service does not currently have its own development squad, nor has it made the Giro d'Italia an objective, given the overriding focus on Armstrong's Tour de France victories and an important- yet still secondary- commitment to the Vuelta a España, won this year by Heras.

"We haven't yet found a replacement for Roberto in the Vuelta, but in any case the Veulta is not out main objective," directeur sportif Johan Bruyneel commented in a recent AFP interview. "We're focusing on a sixth Tour victory with Armstrong."

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