Armstrong's future includes NYC marathon return

By Larry Fine

NEW YORK - Lance Armstrong is mulling over his future yet the seven-times Tour de France champion has settled on at least one challenge for next year -- he will return for another crack at the New York City Marathon.

Armstrong is resisting offers of acting work and a possible urge to enter the political arena to concentrate on being retired but the American, who described his maiden marathon earlier this month as "the hardest thing I've ever done", has already decided to run the 42.16km race again.

"I'm going back next year; I've decided I'm going back," the 35-year-old cycling great told Reuters in a recent telephone interview from his hometown of Austin, Texas, after opening the seventh 24-hour fitness centre to bear his name.

Armstrong has not run at all since the marathon, where he raised US$600,000 for his foundation and cancer research and met a personal goal of finishing under three hours with a time of 2 hours 59 minutes 36 seconds.

"I'm still shaking it off. I'm still limping," said Armstrong, who is bothered by shin splints.

Armstrong said he was stunned by the interest he aroused in New York.

"I was surprised by the amount of coverage," he said.

The cyclist who overcame cancer to conquer the Tour de France acknowledged he had "celebrity capital".

"I try not to think about that. I guess there is some of that," he said. "You take the sport side of things, and I've not been a recluse since. I've been out and about.

"Then the work with the disease and trying to engage in the political process there and getting our leaders to pay attention and increase funding and increase exposure for it.

"It's such a big disease and touches so many lives that you have a built-in audience that wants that and needs that and wants to support that and wants to be part of an army.

"That is probably the biggest constituency I have. It's certainly the one I care the most about aside from my kids."

Armstrong said he was not inclined towards an acting career despite getting offers and was reluctant to get into politics.

"I think it's best just to never say never," he said, leaving the door ajar. "On both of those I'd say it's highly unlikely.

"Politics is tricky, because I do think public service is incredibly noble and this country needs great leaders and I think many times... we have mediocre leaders and that's not doing our great country any good.

"To engage in that you really open yourself up because it's such a split and divided country now in terms of politics and the tactics there you open yourself up for a lot.

"I've been through enough the last 10 years to know what that feels like and I think politics tends to be 10-x of that.

"I'm trying to figure out how to be retired, so why would I then go get a full-time job?"

Armstrong is still involved in cycling as part-owner of the Delivery Channel team which he led and last week announced the signing of former Giro d'Italia champion Ivan Basso, recently cleared by his federation and Olympic committee of doping suspicions tied to a probe by Spanish authorities.

"We have a zero tolerance policy," he said when asked about any cloud over Basso. "If someone either admits doping or is caught doping or prosecuted for doping then they're out."

Dogged by accusations in the past that his own historic streak of seven successive Tour titles was linked to doping, Armstrong vehemently opposed initiatives considered by the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) to streamline its testing system.

One measure would change the system to rely solely on one urine sample rather than A and B samples that are cross-checked to ensure the validity of a positive test.

This month the positive test for reigning Tour de France champion Floyd Landis was called into question over a reported administrative error in the labelling of Landis' B sample by the French anti-doping lab in Chatenay-Malabry.

"The need for drug testing is great," Armstrong said. "If the athletes are not protected and respected, and their rights are not protected and respected, then the process will never work. If the athletes don't believe in it, they don't believe they are being treated fairly, then it's all a sham.

"For an athlete to be banned for life for a positive A sample, that's essentially giving them the death penalty.

"If there is no way for them to clear themselves, through some sort of forensic evidence or DNA then...we'd have a lot of innocent people on death row."

- REUTERS

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