PARIS -- Still hungry to race but wary he is not in the best
shape, Lance Armstrong wants to take his Tour de France record to
even mightier heights: He will try for a seventh straight title
Armstrong had left open the possibility he wouldn't compete this
year in cycling's showcase event to pursue other races. But in an
announcement Wednesday on the web site of his Discovery Channel
team the Tour's only six-time winner said he will again commit
himself to the race to which he's dedicated his cycling life.
"I am grateful for the opportunity that Discovery
Communications has given the team and look forward to achieving my
goal of a seventh Tour de France," Armstrong said.
Armstrong has overcome testicular cancer to become one of the
most inspirational stories in all sports, and his sixth Tour crown
last year sent him past four five-time champions: Jacques Anquetil,
Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain.
Armstrong will start his 2005 season with the Paris-Nice stage
race in March, according to the team Web site. He will then compete
in the Tour of Flanders on April 3 before returning to the United
States to defend his title at the Tour de Georgia that month.
Armstrong said that he and Johan Bruyneel, his friend and team
manager, "will evaluate my fitness later this spring and possibly
add some races to the calendar."
"I am excited to get back on the bike and start racing,"
Armstrong said, "although my condition is far from perfect."
Other racers probably won't attach much importance to that last
assessment, and British bookmaker William Hill immediately
installed Armstrong the 4-7 favorite. Jan Ullrich, the 1997 Tour
champion and five-time runner-up, was at 7-2.
"It's good that he is there," Ullrich said. "The best should
be at the Tour."
Andreas Kloden, last year's runner-up, added: "I always said he
would ride. I am glad he's there."
Armstrong will be nearly 34 when the Tour begins July 2 -- too
old, some might think, to win the three-week cycling marathon yet
again. There were plenty of doubters last year, too. Yet the Texan
managed to defeat younger competitors with a dominant performance.
Armstrong showed last year that once he's on his bike he can
shut out all manner of distractions -- from a court battle over a
book that implied he used drugs to the attention focused on his
girlfriend and singer, Sheryl Crow.
Armstrong has said he wants to win other big races, but the
demands of the Tour have left little room for such Classic races as
the Spanish Vuelta, the Paris-Roubaix or Fleche Wallone, which he
won in 1996 shortly before being diagnosed with cancer.
This year's Tour de France route passes through Germany and
features 21 stages over 2,222 miles from July 2-24. The mountaintop
finishes are less intense and the time trials shorter this year. Both are disciplines where Armstrong excels, so the changes may mean he will have fewer opportunities to take huge chunks of time off his rivals.
But some initially thought the 2004 route also might trip up the
champion. Instead, it proved just to his liking. Armstrong's
winning margin over Kloden -- 6 minutes, 19 seconds -- was not his
biggest. But his five solo stage wins and a team time trial victory
made it perhaps Armstrong's best Tour.