Alexa

Shouldn't Lance Armstrong just quit?

 Lance Armstrong of the US strains after he crashed and got distanced during the eighth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 189 kilometers (...
 A spectator encourages Lance Armstrong of the US, center, after he crashed and got distanced during the eighth stage of the Tour de France cycling ra...
 Spectators, one draped in the American flag, encourage Lance Armstrong of the US, left, as he strains after he crashed and got distanced during the e...
 Lance Armstrong of the US reacts after he crosses the finish with a delay following a crash during the eighth stage of the Tour de France cycling rac...
 Lance Armstrong of the US is surrounded by journalists after the eighth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 189 kilometers (117.4 miles) wi...
 Lance Armstrong of the US exits the team bus to leave for a training ride with his teammates on the rest day of the Tour de France cycling race in Mo...
 Lance Armstrong of the US, center, speeds down Colombiere pass during the 9th stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 204.5 kilometers (127 mil...
 A helicopter hovers over the pack with Lance Armstrong of the US, center, as the riders climb towards Colombiere pass during the 9th stage of the Tou...
 Lance Armstrong of the US, center,  climbs towards Colombiere pass during the 9th stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 204.5 kilometers (127...
 A woman takes pictures of the pack as a message for cyclist Lance Armstrong of the US is seen on a car during the 11th stage of the Tour de France cy...
 Lance Armstrong of the US, center, rides in the pack during the 11th stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 184.5 kilometers (114.6 miles) wit...

France Cycling Tour De France

Lance Armstrong of the US strains after he crashed and got distanced during the eighth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 189 kilometers (...

France Cycling Tour De France

A spectator encourages Lance Armstrong of the US, center, after he crashed and got distanced during the eighth stage of the Tour de France cycling ra...

France Cycling Tour De France

Spectators, one draped in the American flag, encourage Lance Armstrong of the US, left, as he strains after he crashed and got distanced during the e...

France Cycling Tour De France

Lance Armstrong of the US reacts after he crosses the finish with a delay following a crash during the eighth stage of the Tour de France cycling rac...

France Cycling Tour De France

Lance Armstrong of the US is surrounded by journalists after the eighth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 189 kilometers (117.4 miles) wi...

France Cycling Tour De France

Lance Armstrong of the US exits the team bus to leave for a training ride with his teammates on the rest day of the Tour de France cycling race in Mo...

APTOPIX France Cycling Tour De France

Lance Armstrong of the US, center, speeds down Colombiere pass during the 9th stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 204.5 kilometers (127 mil...

APTOPIX France Cycling Tour De France

A helicopter hovers over the pack with Lance Armstrong of the US, center, as the riders climb towards Colombiere pass during the 9th stage of the Tou...

France Cycling Tour De France

Lance Armstrong of the US, center, climbs towards Colombiere pass during the 9th stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 204.5 kilometers (127...

France Cycling Tour De France

A woman takes pictures of the pack as a message for cyclist Lance Armstrong of the US is seen on a car during the 11th stage of the Tour de France cy...

France Cycling Tour De France

Lance Armstrong of the US, center, rides in the pack during the 11th stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 184.5 kilometers (114.6 miles) wit...

On the long road into Paris, nearly every day still left on this Tour de France is going to be a reminder of the champion that Lance Armstrong once was but no longer is.
Take, for example, stage 14 looming this Sunday, when the Tour will clamber high into the Pyrenees mountains to Ax-3 Domaines.
That ski station was the setting for a vintage Armstrong performance in 2005, when he was still a genuine, no-holds-barred competitor, not the haggard has-been _ as a rider, at least _ he has become.
His rivals threw everything they had at Armstrong that day. On a long, steep climb up to the Port de Pailheres pass _ which the Tour will cross again on Sunday _ they brutally wore down Armstrong's teammates by riding furiously. Without his support riders to help him, the six-, going on seven-time champion, was forced to fend for himself.
Not that isolating him made any difference. "In that situation you either fight back or you run away," Armstrong said. He, of course, fought. Yet again, he trumped them all.
That was the Armstrong of old _ in control, seemingly invulnerable, never ready to surrender. Had they ever met face-to-face, it is hard to imagine the Armstrong of then having much time or sympathy for the ersatz version of himself now.
Over the years, the Tour has seen many facets of Armstrong: angry, funny, courteous, prickly, triumphant, gracious, mean, considerate and, most of all, determined. Frighteningly determined _ sometimes to the expense of everything else.
But we had to wait until this Tour, Armstrong's 13th and last, to see the man who defeated cancer simply capitulate, put his hands on his hips in resignation and ruefully shake his head. It was a giant shock when that happened on stage 8, on the Tour's very first day in the high mountains. Because it was so unexpected, so unthinkable, the day that Armstrong surrendered will become part of Tour lore, along with all those times when he was so dominant.
Armstrong can justifiably point to a host of reasons why his final Tour fell flat. There was the punctured tire on day 4 that hobbled him when the race veered over cobblestones. There was intense summer heat, which he has never liked. There were relentless questions, again, about whether he has ever doped. And there were crashes, nasty ones that left Armstrong with cuts and bruises.
But most of all, 38-year-old Armstrong just looks past it, jaded, almost uninterested. As early as day 3, he already was joking that he perhaps should have stayed retired. Four stages later, as he picked through an unappetizing snack of rice, eggs and peas to recharge his energy after another hard day of riding, Armstrong was looking forward to soon never again having to put his body through the discomforts of the Tour.
It is to Armstrong's credit that he still aims to reach the finish in Paris even though he is no longer in contention for the podium or even for a top 10 place. That is a mark of respect not only for his sponsors and teammates but also to his fans and, most of all, to the race that made him fabulously wealthy and famous. In that way, Armstrong is proving to be more gracious as a loser than he sometimes was as a boorish and arrogant winner. On Friday, as the Tour pedaled hard through the hills of south-central France, Armstrong playfully stuck out a tongue for the camera. The message: I'm more human than perhaps I seemed when I was beating everyone.
"It would be easy to say I've had some bad luck, I've had some crashes, I'm outta the race and I'm going to go home," Armstrong said earlier this week. "But that's not the commitment I made to my team. That's not the commitment I made to RadioShack. You know, I had a lot of good luck over seven years, and I guess it caught up with me."
Going home early might have made it easier for him to duck reporters' inquiries about the federal probe in the United States looking into allegations that Armstrong and other riders doped. From the comfort of his mansion, Armstrong could simply have ordered his lawyers to rattle off yet another statement dismissing Floyd Landis' accusations as garbage. Instead, Armstrong spent 15 minutes with reporters before stage 10 answering dozens of questions about the probe. Granted, his answers have now led to more questions. But at least he didn't try to hide.
Perhaps the investigation will prove that Armstrong cheated when he was at the height of his powers. Or perhaps, as he insists, there's no wrongdoing on his part to prove.
Either way, now just eight days of Armstrong's era remain. They will take him and the millions of us who have followed his fortunes over the years back through some of his old stomping grounds _ the Pyrenees, of course, but also to Bordeaux, through which he passed on the narrowest of his Tour wins in 2003, and finally to Paris.
Armstrong could, by now, already have been sunning himself on that beach he has been talking about. But instead he is seeing out his story to its bitter end. For that, he should be applauded.
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John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)ap.org