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Armstrong has no retirement plans as yet

MACON (GEORGIA), APRIL 20. Lance Armstrong isn't ready to call this a farewell tour.

Sure, he could make history this summer by winning his sixth straight Tour de France. Sure, he could cap his career in appropriate fashion by finally winning an Olympic gold medal in Athens. Sure, he hates being away from his kids for months at a time.

But retirement? It's hard to imagine this guy curled up in a recliner — the TV remote in one hand, a soda in the other.

``I sit around some nights, wondering what it would be like to be retired,'' Armstrong said on Monday. ``Can I see myself retired in five or six months? That's hard for me to see.''

Armstrong already has won the Tour de France five years in a row. No one has ever done it six times.

``The Tour is the granddaddy,'' he said. ``That's what I wake up thinking about every day.''

Not even the Olympics, which has always been a bit of a disappointment in Armstrong's career, can draw his attention away from winning a sixth Tour de France. When he speaks of the Athens Games, the tone of indifference is unmistakable.

``No disrespect to the Olympics, but I'm focused on winning the Tour de France,'' said Armstrong, who has only one bronze medal to show for three trips to the Games. ``I'm committed to the Olympics, I guess. But to be honest, all the work I do on a daily basis is geared toward the Tour de France.''

Looking fit and relaxed, Armstrong strolled into a hotel ballroom to discuss the quest that drives his life. He's still upset about the way he won his fifth straight Tour — a tumultuous three weeks in which he triumphed through shear willpower despite wrecking once, nearly crashing another time and dealing with dehydration.

He doesn't want it to happen again. ``I'm ready to fix my performance,'' Armstrong said. ``That was a very stressful situation.''

To prevent another close finish, Armstrong has spent time in a wind tunnel, looking for an edge in his equipment. Most noticeable is a new position for his handlebars, but he's also breaking out an improved helmet and shoes that are less wind-resistant.

His personal life is more settled. A year ago, his marriage was crumbling — a situation that undoubtedly took a toll on his preparations. Now, he's involved in a high-profile relationship with rock star Sheryl Crow, which appears to have soothed his soul and put some fire back in him.

Armstrong changed his training schedule this year so he could spend more time at home in Texas with his three young kids. That's how he wound up at the Tour de Georgia, a 2-year-old event that hopes to be a catalyst for bringing big-time cycling back to the United States.

There have been a few attempts in the past — the Coors Classic, the Tour de Trump, the Tour du Pont — but all faded away with a collective yawn from the American sporting public.

``We've had a couple of false starts,'' Armstrong said. ``We would get something going for four or five years, then it would stop. Hopefully this is a new start, a fresh start, something we can build on.''

Armstrong gave a major boost to this fledgling race when he decided it fit perfectly into his new training routine. His last race was the Criterium International in France on March 28. He won't race again until mid-May. He needed a U.S. event to fill his April void.

``With my kids, I was not prepared to leave here in February, come home in September and not see them during that time,'' Armstrong said. ``If I had gone from March to the middle of May without racing, that would been too long a break. This race worked out great.''

``A lot depends on what happens with my team,'' he said. — AP

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