Speculation that Lance Armstrong will retire at the end of this season has intensified after the six-time Tour de France winner hinted strongly that his 14-year career may be close to concluding.
"You'll all know a little more in two weeks' time, but I have to talk to the press and I have to tell them something important," the Texan said, speaking at the end of the Paris-Camembert one-day race on Tuesday.
"If I were you [the press] I would come to the Tour of Georgia," referring to the next stage race he is due to take part in, in late April. "The only thing I know for sure is that I will be starting the Tour de France this year. But it could be the last."
Rumours have been rife that Armstrong may call a halt to his career sooner than expected after a sharp rise in his commercial engagements this winter contributed to an unusually lacklustre start to his season. The Texan rode what he called the "worst time trial of my life" in his first race of 2005, the Paris-Nice earlier this month, finishing 140th before quitting after four stages with a fever.
Neither of his two one-day races have produced outstanding results and in his last European race this spring, the one-day Tour of Flanders next Sunday, his official mission is that of a simple "team helper".
Another pointer to a sooner-than-expected retirement is that although Armstrong signed this winter for two years with his current team, Discovery, his contract specified that he need only do the Tour once more.
Alasdair Fotheringham writes for Cycling Weekly