July 24, 2005
Overall leader Lance Armstrong, of Austin,
Texas, signals seven for his seventh straight win in the Tour de France
cycling race, as he rides during the 21st and final stage of the race
between Corbeil-Essonnes, south of Paris, and the French capital, Sunday.
Lance Armstrong of Austin, Texas toasts with champagne during the 21st and
final stage of the Tour de France cycling race between Corbeil-Essonnes,
south of Paris, and the French capital, Sunday. (AP Photo/Alessandro Trovati)
PARIS (AP) - For one last time, the Star
Spangled Banner rang out over the Champs-Elysees in honour of Lance
Armstrong, the cancer survivor who finished his amazing career with a
seventh consecutive victory Sunday in the Tour de France.
On the winner's podium set against the backdrop of the Arc de Triomphe, the
Tour's record-setting champion held his yellow cap over his heart as the
American anthem played.
His three children joined him on the podium. His twin daughters, Grace and
Isabelle, wore yellow dresses - the colour of the race leader's jersey that
Armstrong slipped into one last time.
"Vive le Tour, forever," he said.
But Armstrong also delivered a parting shot at "the cynics" who suspect that
doping is rife in cycling and fueled his dominance of the past seven years.
"I'm sorry you don't believe in miracles," he said.
Armstrong looked gaunt, his cheeks hollow, after riding 3,593 kilometres
across France and its mountains over the past three weeks. He said U.S.
President George W. Bush called to congratulate him.
Because of wet conditions, race organizers stopped the clock as Armstrong
and the main pack entered central Paris. Although riders were still racing,
with eight circuits of the Champs-Elysees to complete, organizers said then
that Armstrong had officially won.
Alexandre Vinokourov of Kazakhstan eventually won the final stage, with
Armstrong finishing safely in the pack. He won the Tour by four minutes 40
seconds over his closest challenger, Ivan Basso of Italy, who improved on
his third-place finish last year.
Jan Ullrich, the 1997 Tour winner who was the rival Armstrong said he feared
most, was third, 6:21 back.
Armstrong praised the two riders - who could fight to succeed him next year.
"To end a career with this podium is really a dream podium," Armstrong said.
"This is the way he wanted to finish his career, so it's very emotional,"
said his rockstar girlfriend Sheryl Crow.
The stage started as it has done for the past six years - with Armstrong
celebrating in the yellow jersey.
One hand on his handlebars, the other holding a flute of champagne, the
33-year-old Texan toasted his teammates as he pedalled into Paris to collect
his crown. He held up seven fingers - one for each win - and a piece of
paper with the number 7 on it.
His sixth win last year already set a record, putting Armstrong ahead of
four other riders. Frenchmen Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault, Belgian
Eddy Merckx and Spaniard Miguel Indurain all won five Tours.
Armstrong's new record of seven wins confirmed him as one of the greatest
cyclists ever, and capped a career where he came back from cancer diagnosed
in 1996 to dominate the sport's most prestigious and taxing race.