Armstrong re-retires, says no way back this time

February 16, 2011

ARMSTRONGIt’s been a sad week in sport in some ways, with two modern greats announcing their retirements with immediate effect.

Admittedly, we knew long ago that we’d already seen by far the best of both Ronaldo, who called it a day on Monday, and Lance Armstrong, who announced on Wednesday his “retirement 2.0″.

Armstrong first quit the sport in 2005 after racking up a seventh successive Tour de France victory, an incredible achievement by any standard. The man who survived testicular cancer that had spread to his brain and lungs, undergoing coruscating courses of chemotherapy, gave us a story that was truly inspiring.

He returned to the sport in 2009, finishing third in his first year back and 23rd in 2010, his last attempt at the race.

I covered the Tour de France for Reuters in 2001 and saw him make it three in a row. He was under a huge amount of scrutiny over doping even then, with many people simply refusing to believe his achievements could possibly be coming unaided.

He has never had a positive test, though and has consistently denied ever taking performance enhancing drugs. “They can keep looking,” he told reporters in Australia last month. “If you’re trying to hide something, you wouldn’t keep getting away with it for 10 years. Nobody is that clever.”

Back in 2001, I recall writing that Armstrong had made some headway in his battle for more than grudging respect from Europe. He spoke French and Spanish to the media and fans and was careful not to sound boastful about his achievements, even though he knew full well just how much better he was than his two great rivals that year, Jan Ullrich and Joseba Beloki. If the people didn’t love him exactly, the mood was maybe sort of heading that way.

Well, Armstrong never did perhaps win the hearts of the cycling public in France but for seven remarkable years he made the greatest sporting event on earth his own. No one has ever dominated to such an extent and I doubt anyone ever well again.

PHOTO: Lance Armstrong listens to the U.S. national anthem in front of the Arc de Triomphe on the Champs Elysees during the podium ceremony of the 2001 Tour de France cycling race in Paris July 29, 2001. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

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