Lance Armstrong is calling this one “Retirement 2.0.”
Almost a month after finishing 65th in his last competitive race in Australia, and nearly six years removed from the last of an unprecedented seven straight Tour de France titles, the 39-year-old cyclist made clear there is no reset button this time.
This time, he’s leaving professional racing behind for good.
“Never say never,” Armstrong laughed at the start of an exclusive interview Tuesday with The Associated Press, then quickly added, “Just kidding.”
His retirement ends a comeback effort that failed to produce an eighth title or diminish talk that performance-enhancing drugs helped his career. The timing has as much to do with his growing responsibilities and family as it does with the physical limitations time has imposed. He’s tired, and tired of being hounded. Armstrong will miss competing — let alone dominating a sport like none before him — but not the 24/7/365 training regimen that made it possible.
“I can’t say I have any regrets. It’s been an excellent ride. I really thought I was going to win another tour,” Armstrong said about his comeback attempt in 2009, four years after his first retirement. “Then I lined up like everybody else and wound up third.
“I have no regrets about last year, either,” he added, despite finishing 23rd. “The crashes, the problems with the bike — those were things that were beyond my control.”
Armstrong spoke to the AP in a telephone interview and in a videotaped interview from his office in Austin, Texas.
Armstrong zoomed out of relative obscurity after a life-threatening bout with testicular cancer to win his first tour in 1999, then set about recalibrating both the popularity of his sport and how much influence athletes can wield as advocates for a cause — in his case, on behalf of cancer survivors and researchers worldwide.
International Cycling Union President Pat McQuaid had high praise for Armstrong.
“His contribution to cycling has been enormous, from both the sporting point of view and his personality. All sports need global icons and he has become a global icon for cycling,” said McQuaid, speaking to The Associated Press by telephone from the Tour of Oman. “The sport of cycling has a lot to be thankful for because of Lance Armstrong.”
Along the way, Armstrong also became one of the most controversial figures in the evolving battle against doping in sports. He claims to be the most-tested athlete on the planet during his career. Armstrong came back clean every time, and vehemently denies ever using performance-enhancing drugs.
Even so, he remains shadowed by a federal investigation into the sport launched last year following accusations by former teammate and disgraced 2006 tour champion Floyd Landis that Armstrong used drugs and taught other riders how to beat testing. Though the probe is continuing, lawyers familiar with the case told the AP recently that any possible indictments are a long way off.
“I can’t control what goes on in regards to the investigation. That’s why I hire people to help me with that. I try not to let it bother me and just keep rolling right along. I know what I know,” Armstrong said. “I know what I do and I know what I did. That’s not going to change.”
What won’t change, either, is his tenacious campaigning to raise funds and awareness in the fight against a disease his doctors once believed would keep Armstrong from competing at anything more strenuous than gin rummy.