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Last Updated: Friday, 28 October 2005, 10:06 GMT 11:06 UK
Life after Lance
By Matt Majendie

Lance Armstrong (right) with young pretenders Ivan Basso (left) and Alejandro Valverde (centre)
Armstrong remains a bigger draw than the race and the top riders
Lance Armstrong may be gone from the cycling world, but he is certainly not forgotten.

At the launch of the route for next year's Tour de France on Thursday, the race Armstrong has made his own for the last seven years, race director Jean-Marie Leblanc spent 12 of his 15 minutes on stage talking about the Texan.

More specifically, Leblanc, who will bow out of his role after next year's race, talked about the issue of doping and a call for further drug tests ahead of the 103rd year of the race.

But he made it clear who the criticism was aimed at.

Leblanc said: "On 24 July we turned the page on a long, very long chapter in the history of the Tour de France. And one month later, current events made it clear to us that it was just as well that this was so."

That was a reference to allegations in L'Equipe newspaper that Armstrong took the blood-boosting drug EPO en route to his first Tour de France win in 1999, an allegation Armstrong vehemently denies.

Despite bowing out in a blaze of glory with a seventh Tour win this summer, the American has arguably become bigger than the race itself.

LANCE ARMSTRONG FACTFILE
Born: 18 Sept 1971
Lives: Austin, Texas; Girona, Spain
Team: Discovery Channel (previously US Postal)
Career highlights: Seven Tour de France wins (1999-2005); world road race champion (1993); world number one (1996)
Marital status: Engaged to rock star Sheryl Crow; (three children by ex-wife Kristin: Luke, Isabelle and Grace)
Outside cycling interests: Head of Lance Armstrong Foundation; part of President Bush's cancer advisory committee
Heart rate: 32 bpm (resting) - 201 bpm (maximum)
And that, it would seem, is still a major gripe for race officials.

In a somewhat petulant vow of silence by Leblanc and his number two Christian Prudhomme, Armstrong was mentioned by name just once on Thursday, much to the chagrin of his former boss Johann Bruyneel.

The Discovery Channel team boss said: "I'm a little surprised that Lance was ignored like this. He won this race seven times in a row, no one has done this before.

"They spoke for about 15 minutes and 12 of them were about this single matter. If it were my show, I'd have run it a different way. We were here to learn about next year's course."

To further heighten Leblanc's anger, Bruyneel also intimated Armstrong would make an appearance at the race in 2006 in some sort of the capacity with the team.

Since 1999 Armstrong has been the Tour and, despite his retirement, he remains the cycling story, something the race organisers are working hard to overcome.

On Thursday they wheeled out two of the leading candidates to take over Armstrong's mantle - Ivan Basso and Alejandro Valverde.

Valverde has been hailed by Armstrong as "the future of cycling", while Basso is his tip to win next year's race.

But pointedly both men mentioned the Texan when asked about the race.

Valverde said: "It will be a very open race next year and possibly more difficult because Lance Armstrong isn't here."

Basso also hailed his former American rival as well as highlighting "a new generation of young, promising riders".

Armstrong, though, might well be there and, if so, will laughably still be the Tour's biggest draw, even if simply working for the Discovery Channel team.

And judging by his previous trend of not suffering fools gladly, you get the impression he will happily make the trip from Austin, Texas, to Strasbourg - where the race starts - if only to rile Leblanc still further.




SEE ALSO
Lawyer to probe Armstrong claims
06 Oct 05 |  Cycling


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