Cycling: Armstrong will retire from saddle after this year's Tour

It could hardly be more appropriate: American Lance Armstrong - the first cyclist to win the Tour de France six times - will be retiring from the sport the day after the race ends in July.

Armstrong, 33, announced in Atlanta, on the eve of the Tour of Georgia, he was "100 per cent committed" to his decision. The six-day event in Georgia, together with the Dauphine Libéré stage race in France in June and the Tour will form the Texan's swansong.

"I have thought a lot about it, I have gone back and forth. My time has come but I will definitely have the itch now and again," Armstrong admitted. "My children are my biggest supporters but at the same time they are the ones who told me it's time to come home."

But he did not discount taking a seventh Tour de France. "It's a great field, a great race, I would like to win again, I would love to go out on top," he added.

To say Armstrong will leave an immense gap in the sport is a major understatement. His legacy is not just that of being the first rider to break the invisible barrier of five Tours, he also fought off life-threatening testicular cancer in the late 1990s. And when he came back to cycling in 1998 his chances of success were judged minuscule by many. Instead Armstrong almost immediately became a key challenger in one of the most gruelling events in sport.

Since 1999 he has been peerless in the Tour, with a single-minded dedication that sparked admiration for the results and criticism for his comparative lack of interest in other races. And whilehe was an inspiration for many cancer sufferers, Armstrong's tendency to isolate himself was not always appreciated.

Speculation has steadily increased that Armstrong, talking more and more about wanting to spend time with his three children and the strains of constant travelling, was going to retire. He even told a newspaper this spring, "four more months and it's over".

For those hoping Armstrong would continue racing after July, there had been the fact the Texan's contract with his current team, Discovery, does not run out until 2006. But Armstrong had specified with Discovery that he only had to race one more Tour de France.

Now he has opted to make that challenge the last of his career.

¿ The Olympic gold medallist Tyler Hamilton, 34, has received a two-year ban for returning a positive dope test for blood transfusion during the 2004 Tour of Spain, shortly after the American won the men's time trial in Athens.

Alasdair Fotheringham writes for 'Cycling Weekly'

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