Austin, Texas Even by his standards, Lance Armstrong's return to the mountaintop was pretty special.
The question facing Armstrong and his legion of fans now is whether he'll return to challenge the Pyrenees and the French Alps again in 2005.
Armstrong took his cycling legacy a step further when he won a record sixth consecutive Tour de France in July, and he was honored Monday as The Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year. Armstrong joined Michael Jordan as the only athletes selected by sports writers and broadcasters three straight times since the honor was first awarded in 1931.
"For me it was a special year," Armstrong said. "It's always nice to win the Tour, but this year was special simply because I broke the record and made history."
Armstrong received 51 first-place votes and 312 points. Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning was second with 17 first-place votes and 156 points.
In 2003, Armstrong struggled to win his fifth Tour de France, capturing cycling's premier event and one of the world's most grueling sporting events by a mere 61 seconds. It was also the year he got divorced, and he struggled to balance the pressures of his personal and professional lives.
Yet the 33-year-old Texan stormed back in 2004 with arguably his best U.S. Postal Service team and his best individual performance on the bike. He won five individual stages and a sixth with a team time trial in France.
But as dominant as Armstrong was in France, he has yet to commit to going for a seventh title next year. He promises to race again in the Tour de France before he retires, but won't say if it will be next year or 2006.
Armstrong says he's ready to pursue other challenges in racing. He has dedicated most of his cycling life to the Tour, leaving little room for the Spanish Vuelta, the Paris-Roubaix or Fleche Wallone, which he won in 1996 shortly before being diagnosed with cancer. But he also knows that it's the Tour de France his American fans want to see him win.
"I could win the Tour of Flanders, and I wouldn't win AP Athlete of the Year," he said.
His Lance Armstrong Foundation, which is dedicated to cancer survivorship programs, got a monumental boost with the popularity of its promotional "Livestrong" yellow wristbands. Boosted by his Tour victory, the foundation sold nearly 30 million of the wristbands this year, spawning a fashion trend.