Armstrong bids Tour adieu, not the way he wanted

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by Jamey Keaten, Associated Press

KMOV.com

Posted on July 25, 2010 at 6:30 PM

PARIS (AP) -- Lance Armstrong didn't want to go out this way.

In his final Tour de France, the seven-time champion popped a tire, crashed and struggled up the mountains. Worse, he appears to be the target of a U.S. federal investigation into doping and fraud allegations while a rider on the US Postal team.

One Tour too many? Maybe.

Still, he maintained he had no regrets despite the ignominious ending of No. 13 -- nearly 40 minutes behind the leader, former teammate and rival Alberto Contador.

"I wouldn't say that it's ruined," he said during an interview with a few reporters Sunday. "In 10 years, when I look back on the 2010 Tour, it won't be the memory that I have.

"Obviously, I won't have a yellow jersey to remember -- I'll remember the team, digging deep to win the team GC (general classification)," he said. "It's significant for us and the sponsor.

"I'll remember having my son here for a week at the Tour," he said, referring to 10-year-old Luke. "I'll remember the bad luck, certainly -- the crashes. But that won't be the thing that I'll take away."

During the race, there were numerous published reports of a federal investigation led by Jeff Novitzky, a special agent with the Food and Drug Administration, into claims about Armstrong and doping by former teammate Floyd Landis.

Several former riders who race with Armstrong have reportedly been subpoenaed. Armstrong faced questions about those reports at the Tour. He said he had not been subpoenaed or contacted by Novitzky himself.

Landis, who was stripped of his 2006 Tour title for doping, had long denied doping until April, when he announced that he, in fact, did -- and alleged Armstrong did, too. The claim came as Armstrong was riding in the Tour of California.

Armstrong, who denies the allegations, faulted Landis for trying to clear his conscience and trying "to incriminate a half-dozen other people. ... To me, that doesn't add up."

"That's just somebody who's trying to ruin the lives of others," Armstrong said on a high-speed French train from Bordeaux to the Paris area for the Tour's 20th and final stage.

He insisted his life isn't going to change.

The Livestrong wristbands of his charitable foundation will continue to sell; he will do charity rides; he will still be a father of four -- soon to be five -- children; he will still hang out with stars like singer Bono and actor Matthew McConaughey.

Ask any rider or team manager at the Tour, and it's clear Armstrong's mark on the sport is indelible -- the use of earpiece radios for riders, training regimens, diet and race strategy, among other things. His success helped convert what was mostly a summertime passion in Europe into a 21st Century business fanning interest from Canada to China.

But his long-masterful control of his image -- cancer survivor, Tour champion, public personality and pitchman -- may finally be escaping his grasp.

Last year, returning from a four-year retirement from the Tour, he finished an impressive third, got within one second of the yellow jersey he knows so well, and warmed the hearts of French fans who once despised him for his methodical, "American" drive to victory above all.

This year, he was but a mere 23rd, and his best single showing was arguably in the prologue in Rotterdam, where he placed fourth.

He gradually downscaled his ambitions. At first he wanted to win. Then, he wanted a stage win, which he narrowly missed in an eight-man sprint finish to the 16th stage, the toughest day in the Pyrenees.

When that opportunity vanished, he focused on his RadioShack squad -- which did give him a sliver of glory and a podium appearance by winning the team classification.

In Stage 3, he blew a tire on cobblestones, and lost time. In Stage 8, he got involved in three crashes that his 38-year-old body just couldn't recover from in time to scale tough Alpine climbs.

"With the first crash, my body never felt the same after that, and the second was the nail in the coffin," he said. "So you could look at it like that, and yeah, it was one (Tour) too many."

Yet he said pulling out wasn't an option.

"I couldn't quit," Armstrong said. "I could have said a dozen things were wrong, but that's not the commitment that I made. The result wasn't ideal, but it would have been a serious mistake to quit on the team, to quit on the sponsor, to quit on my fans.

"OK, it's not what they wanted, it's not what any of us wanted. But it would have been far worse to DNF" -- Did Not Finish, he said.

He's happy, for the time being, to be out of the limelight.

"Right now, I'm going to the Bahamas, I'm gonna put my feet up and forget about riding the bike for a little bit. Drink some cold beer. Build some sand castles with my kids," he said after the race ended.

"I got my competitive fix for the next 40 years, it will take until about 80 (years old) and then I don't think I will wanna come back," he said.

His 2.5 million-plus followers on Twitter will have to wait.

"I'm laying off the Twitter for a while. I gotta go away."

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AP Sports Writer Samuel Petrequin contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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