PARIS — PARIS - Even as Lance Armstrong powered through the final eight days of the 20-stage Tour de France, the most famous and most grueling race in cycling, even as he had one of the most dominant stretches ever in the race by winning five stages, including three days in a row, Armstrong also was contemplating his future.
Armstrong, a 32-year-old cancer survivor from Texas, won an unprecedented sixth consecutive Tour de France title yesterday. No man in the 101-year history of the race has won as many, consecutively or not.
Tour director Jean-Marie Leblanc called Armstrong the Tour's greatest champion yesterday.
"He's the only one to have won it six times," Leblanc said. "He won stages of all kinds, time trials, mountain stages. He's an accomplished champion. Except for last year, he has never showed any signs of weakness."
But Armstrong's mark as a cyclist has been made almost solely by winning the Tour de France. Although Armstrong won a world championship in 1993 and an Olympic bronze medal in 2000, he hasn't made a secret of his dedication to the Tour de France at the expense of cycling's other prominent races.
Armstrong has not said whether he would be back at the Tour next year. He has said he would definitely race somewhere. It is the where that Armstrong won't answer.
"Make no mistake about it," Armstrong said, "this is the greatest bike race in the world, the one that matters most, the one I love the most. But make no mistake about it; I'm still trying to enjoy life.
"I have three children in Texas and me in Europe - three months in the winter, now three more months in preparation for the race. This is what will force me to change my schedule."
Said Chris Carmichael, Armstrong's longtime trainer: "There's no question, Lance has a sense that there are other things out there." Bob Roll, a former racer and current TV commentator who used to go on training rides with Armstrong while he was recovering from cancer, added: "There are some empty places on his resume."
The four men who had been tied with Armstrong with five Tour titles - Frenchmen Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault, Belgian Eddy Merckx and Spain's Miguel Indurain - all had other major titles on their resumes.
These races aren't well known in the U.S. except to hard-core cycling fans. But neither was the Tour until Armstrong began his extraordinary run.
Greg LeMond had brought the Tour into the American consciousness when he became the first American winner in 1986 and then won in 1989 and 1990. But it was Armstrong's fierce determination in overcoming testicular cancer, winning the Tour only three years after his illness was diagnosed, that helped to revive interest in the Tour only a year after a doping scandal nearly brought the race to a halt in 1998.
Yet in Europe, where the sport has an eight-month season that runs from spring to fall, not just a three-week extravaganza in July, there has been criticism of Armstrong for eschewing the other major events.
There is also the lure of the one-hour record, where a single man rides on a closed, circular course as far as he can for an hour. It has been contested since 1907 and is held now by British cyclist Chris Boardman, who rode 56.375 kilometers in 1996.
"I've said I'd like to do the Giro [Italian race] before I stop, go for the world hour record," Armstrong said. "But I'm almost 33."
Armstrong has juggled two lives this year after divorcing his wife, Kristin, and beginning a relationship with rock singer Sheryl Crow. Armstrong bought a house in Austin, Texas, within a few blocks of Kristin and their three children - son Luke and twin daughters Grace and Isabella.
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.
Six and counting
Lance Armstrong is the first cyclist to win six straight Tour de France titles. Others in sports who had streaks of six in a row:
Rogers Hornsby, NL batting titles (1920 to 1925)
Babe Ruth, AL home run titles (1926 to 1931)
Phil Esposito, NHL goal titles (1969-70 to 1974-75)
Willie Renshaw, Wimbledon men's titles (1881 to 1886)
Martina Navratilova, Wimbledon women's titles (1982 to 1987)