Postal Service to end sponsorship after '04

WASHINGTON -- The Postal Service is ending its sponsorship
of celebrated cyclist Lance Armstrong, winner of five consecutive
Tour de France races.

The agency has sponsored Armstrong's pro cycling team for eight
years and will to do so through the end of 2004.

Spokesman Gerry McKiernan said the agency has decided to go "in
another direction" with its advertising. Asked if that meant some
other sport relationship, he said "it's possible."

Armstrong, who will go for a record sixth Tour de France win
later this year, was disappointed to hear the news, but not

"I have mixed emotions, but predominantly I have great memories
and great feelings towards them," Armstrong said after the fifth
stage of the Tour de Georgia Friday. "In 1998 they were the
company and the sponsor that stepped up and gave me a chance to
race again."

Cycling is popular in Europe and postal officials sponsored
Armstrong's team in an effort to increase their international
business. Though Armstrong declined to elaborate about potential
sponsors, he welcomes interest from European companies.

"It's not really that important, but certainly somebody with a
European focus and increasing their exposure in Europe," Armstrong
said. "That makes more sense. There's plenty of technology
companies and other logical companies that aren't based in America,
but I think the team will still be based in America. We'll still be
registered as an American team. That's what counts."

Anita Bizzotto, chief marketing officer for the post office,
said the excitement generated by five consecutive Tour de France
victories "has been inspiring and exhilarating to the Postal
Service, its employees, and the entire country."

With another Tour de France looming in July, Armstrong found the
timing of the Postal Service's announcement curious.

"Now, it is an interesting time to stop," the 32-year-old
Texan said. "I think the team is better than ever. I think that we
continue to compete at a top level and win tours and win big

The team is owned and managed by Tailwind Sports.

Bill Stapleton, chief executive of Tailwind, said the team has
enjoyed its relationship with the post office.

"Further, we appreciate their continued support as we seek a
new title sponsor for the best cycling team in the world. We are
committed to keeping our riders and staff in place for years to
come and furthering our goals of winning important events like the
Tour de France," he said.

The cyclist drew widespread attention for returning to dominate
his sport after overcoming testicular cancer.