Sat, Jul 10, 2004 - Page 20 News List

Armstrong to pass on Olympics

TOUR DE FRANCE The American, who is pursuing a record sixth Tour win, will return home to his children rather than go to Athens when the race is concluded

AP , CHARTRES, FRANCE

Lance Armstrong, of Austin, Texas, right, and Jan Ullrich of Germany, left, pedal ahead of the pack in heavy rain during the fifth stage of the Tour de France cycling race between Amiens, northern France, and Chartres, west of Paris, on Thursday. Stuart O'Grady of Australia won the stage after a five-man breakaway. Thomas Voeckler of France took the overall lead.

PHOTO: AP

Totally focused on winning a record sixth Tour de France, Lance Armstrong said Thursday he'll skip the Athens Olympics so he can return home to his children after months away training for cycling's toughest test.

The Texan, speaking on the day when he willingly surrendered the lead in the Tour, at least temporarily, said he didn't want to take part in next month's Summer Games if his heart wasn't in it.

"I've done the Olympics many times and if I don't have 100 percent motivation for something that's an important event, a very important event, then I don't want to take somebody else's spot," he said.

In training for the Tour, Arm-strong said he had spent a total of five months away from his son, Luke, and twins Grace and Isabelle.

"It's really hard to do and so I want to go home," said the bronze medalist in the 2000 Sydney Games, his best showing in three Olympic appearances.

At the Tour itself -- the race Armstrong trains all year to win -- the five-time champion conceded the overall lead in Thursday's fifth stage to a promising French cyclist, Thomas Voeckler.

But Armstrong said it's all part of his strategy to win the three-week race.

He is saving himself and his US Postal Service team for a brutal last week, when the Tour veers into the Alps and climaxes with a punishing time trial.

Until then, Armstrong is willing to let second-tier riders like Voeckler and his Brioches La Boulangere team shoulder the pressure of being in the lead, confident he'll have overtaken them by the time that race finishes in Paris on July 25.

"Tactically, it's a great move for us with Brioches La Boulangere in the yellow jersey," Armstrong said. "Voeckler is a good young rider, he's French and I think it's a good thing."

With nerves, wind-swept rain and crashes troubling riders, Armstrong and crew decided not to chase Voeckler as he and four other riders broke away from the main pack.

Armstrong said he believed Voeckler may be able to defend the lead into the Pyrenees at the end of week two, but said he expects the 25-year-old rider to buckle under the race's grueling demands.

"A team like Brioches will work really hard to defend," said Armstrong. But "we're confident with the gap where it is. This bike race is so much different from any other race, the intensity of the climbs is a lot greater than anything."

Voeckler acknowledged that he's no match for cycling's dominant rider.

"Oh. I don't think he's worried about me," he said.

Stuart O'Grady of Cofidis, who escaped the pack with Voeckler and three others, won Thursday's stage, a 200.5km trek from Amiens to Chartres.

O'Grady, a 31-year-old Australian, dedicated his second-ever Tour stage victory to his team, which has been embroiled in a doping scandal that led Tour organizers to ban British star David Millar.

"It's just been an emotional roller-coaster," O'Grady said. "We really needed this win."

The breakaway riders finished 12 minutes, 33 seconds ahead of Armstrong and the pack. The Texan -- who was 24th -- fell to 6th overall, 9 minutes and 35 seconds off Voeckler's pace.

Mishaps like flat tires, derailed chains and spills on rain-soaked roads marred much of the course along bucolic wheat fields and rolling hills west of Paris.

Voeckler, riding in his third Tour, epitomized how fickle the race can be from one day to the next. He entered the stage three minutes behind Armstrong in 59th place.

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