Ask about any American sports fan to name one Tour de France competitor not named Lance Armstrong and responses tend to fall into one of the following three categories:

"Well, there's that German guy."

"Uh, oh . . . uh . . . you know . . ."

"Is that the race held in France?"

My point exactly. The United States is a cycling nation that as a whole isn't into competitive cycling. Because there is no tailgating, scantily-clad cheerleading squad, pregame firework display, following-morning boxscore or fantasy league devoted to it, cycling whizzes past us without a moment of sleep lost on our part.

Unless Armstrong is involved. Then the Tour de France, a total yawnfest without him, becomes moderately watchable. The 37-year-old Texan retired in 2005 following his seventh Tour triumph, took a 36-month breather from the venue and now is back, the sole purpose to bring home victory No. 8.

Why Armstrong continues to put himself through this physical and mental torture when there was nothing more to prove years ago, is a mystery. The French don't like him and it seems cycling enthusiasts abroad are just waiting for the day when traces of some illegal substance show up in Armstrong's urine.

This year's Tour wraps up July 26, and don't be surprised if you're watching footage of Armstrong being showered with celebratory champagne. But whether he finishes first, 10th or somewhere in-between, he should retire and remain retired. There are larger, more-important battles on his personal landscape and Armstrong knows it.

A cancer survivor, Armstrong has both lived the dream and the nightmare. He's celebrated and he's suffered. In the grand scheme of things, however, cancer research and the funding required needs Armstrong's powerful voice more than Armstrong needs another conquering of France. So off the bike, Lance. There are lives to save.

TORRE THE BEST — In case you've been asleep at the wheel, the Los Angeles Dodgers are on pace to win 104 games this season. Baseball's second-winningest team, Boston, is on pace to win 98.

But what if the Bosox were without the services of one of their two best hitters, Jacoby Ellsbury or Dustin Pedroia, for 50 games the way Los Angeles recently had to soldier on without Manny Ramirez? Boston would still be good, just maybe not 98-wins good.

This is why Dodgers' manager Joe Torre is the best in the business. Maybe the best in all of professional sports. He wins when he's supposed to and wins when he's not supposed to. And unlike so many of his colleagues, Torre, 69, appears to be getting better at his job the older he gets.

Torre presently ranks fifth all-time in wins, while Tony LaRussa of St. Louis and Atlanta's Bobby Cox are third and fourth, respectively. Torre would have to manage well into his 80s to have a legitimate shot of chasing down all-time leader Connie Mack and his 3,731 victories.

Of course, the legendary Mack managed until he was 87. Torre will find something better to do long before that.


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