Lance Armstrong formally announces retirement, again

Reuters, NEW YORK

Fri, Feb 18, 2011 - Page 20

Lance Armstrong, who recovered from cancer to win the Tour de France a record seven times, formally announced his retirement from cycling on Wednesday, a month after his last race.

The 39-year-old American, who made a comeback to the sport two years ago, said he was quitting for good to spend more time with his family and his charities.

“Today, I am announcing my retirement from professional cycling in order to devote myself full-time to my family, to the fight against cancer and to leading the foundation I established before I won my first Tour de France,” he said in a statement.

Although he never failed a dope test and always denied doping, Armstrong was dogged by accusations of wrongdoing during his career.

Armstrong initially retired from cycling in 2005, but returned in 2009, finishing third in the Tour in his first year back. His final race was at the relatively low-key Tour Down Under in Australia last month.

Belgian cycling legend Eddy Merckx, a five time winner of the Tour de France, said Armstrong was right to call it a day.

“It was time for him to stop,” Merckx said. “He’s won everything, had nothing left to prove to anybody.”

Among his achievements was raising the profile of cycling and the Tour in the US.

“His legacy for our sport is unprecedented. He managed to make an entire country aware of the sport,” USA Cycling chief executive Steve Johnson said.

“He put it on the radar screen of a lot of young people and in a sense legitimized it,” he said.

Armstrong was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1996, but survived and returned to the bike and went on to become one of the most successful and controversial cyclists of all time.

He won the Tour de France for an unprecedented seven consecutive years, from 1999 to 2005, before quitting the sport at the top.

He made a comeback in 2009 at age 37, saying he partly missed the thrill of competition, but was driven by a greater cause, to help promote cancer awareness through his charity Livestrong.

Armstrong enjoyed mixed success, but did not add to his record number of Tour de France wins. He finished a creditable third behind his teammate Alberto Contador in 2009 and then 23rd last year, after moving to the RadioShack team when he suffered a series of crashes that ruined his chances.

Armstrong announced late last year that last month’s Tour Down Under would be his last international race. He planned to compete in a handful of events in the US this year, including the Tour of California, before revealing on Wednesday that he was quitting for good.