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Armstrong wants to leave cycling decked out in yellow

| Monday, June 13, 2005

SALLANCHES, France -- Another six weeks and it will be all over. Lance Armstrong will have retired from cycling, a beer in his hand and perhaps one big farewell bash to remember.

He will try to win his seventh straight Tour de France title next month. Win or lose, he steps off the bike for good July 24.

"I'm going to drink my fair share of beer. Yeah, I can't lie," Armstrong told The Associated Press. "I'm excited to be honest, to move onto other things."

Last year, Armstrong headed to France with the pressure of winning a record sixth Tour. Jacques Anquetil, Bernard Hinault, Miguel Indurain and Eddy Merckx have all won five. This year, there are no records left to beat. The 33-year-old Texan can only extend his own streak.

"It's bittersweet. I feel less pressure than last year," Armstrong said. "This year, my main motivation is that I want to end on a high note. In that way, it could be more motivating than a big bonus or making history."

Armstrong, whose successful battle against cancer has been one of the great inspirational stories, has another incentive to wear the yellow jersey down the Champs-Elysees.

"My kids will be at the Tour and at the finish," he said. "I don't want my kids to see me riding into Paris in a Discovery jersey. It has to be yellow."

When it's over, however, Armstrong will be happy to be done with doping accusations.

Shortly before last year's Tour, a book titled "LA Confidential, The Secrets of Lance Armstrong" was published and accused Armstrong of using banned substances. Armstrong has since taken legal action against authors David Walsh and Pierre Ballester.

"When you're constantly on the top, you have a bull's-eye on your back," Armstrong said. "The target just gets bigger and bigger and bigger. It's easier to shoot at, it's easier to throw things at. It might stick, it might not stick. You have to live with that. It comes with the territory."

Before every Tour, people try to predict who can beat Armstrong. Jan Ullrich and Alexandre Vinokourov are well-known contenders, and others like Ivan Basso and Jose Gomez Marchante have made an impact more recently.

But to Armstrong, the names become a blur.

"Every year, people ask for a list of 10 or 12 guys who can challenge," Armstrong said. "But do we really need a list• That's not the question. The question is how good I'm going to be. Am I going to be good enough to win• That's the question."

Armstrong, who has been tuning up at the Dauphine Libere race this week, finished fourth overall Sunday. He was third in Wednesday's time trial and fourth in a key mountain stage Thursday.

"His basic conditioning is very good," Discovery Channel team director Johan Bruyneel said. "Coming into the Dauphine Libere he lacked rhythm, but he can only improve from here. ... Lance is where he needs to be."

Armstrong, who returns to train in the French Alps with teammates Jose Azevedo, Manuel Beltran and Jose Luis Rubiera next week, was more critical.

"I wasn't explosive and wasn't able to make the selection, only to follow," Armstrong said. "But I know from here I can step up another level."

If Armstrong wins a seventh Tour, expect him to celebrate in style.

"In my mind, it would be better to have a party," said Armstrong, whose girlfriend is rock star Sheryl Crow. "A real party, with like U2 playing, or the Rolling Stones ... something big. So, maybe I'll call Bono."

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