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92nd Tour de France - July 2-24, 2005
Super seventh Tour win for Lance Armstrong - July 24, 2005
The good old days
Lance Armstrong closes out career as top Tour de France rider ever
By Tim Maloney, European Editor in Paris
I know I'm not too much of a bargain,
(The Good Old Days; The Eels - courtesy of EELStheband.com)
On Sunday afternoon July 24, 2005, at a little before 6pm on the Champs Elysées in Paris, the sun finally came out on a wet, rainy day and made the yellow of Lance Armstrong's final maillot jaune that much more bright and beautiful. Armstrong's accomplishment of winning seven straight Tours de France is unprecedented in the sport of cycling, and has earned the American the undisputed title of the greatest Tour de France rider ever.
Ensconced atop the Tour podium for a seventh straight year, Lance listened to the fat lady sing as the Star Spangled Banner was played and Old Glory raised for the last time ever for Armstrong. It was a rare moment; a once in a lifetime moment where history and emotion converged, and even rarer, Armstrong addressed the huge crowd in an emotional farewell.
Armstrong called the podium of himself, Ivan Basso and Jan Ullrich, saying, "To end a career with this podium, it's really a dream podium. (Ullrich) is a guy that's challenged me and our team in the Tour on all levels for a long time. He's a special person. Ivan (Basso)...it's tough to race with Ivan; he's too good of a friend. He's perhaps the future of the Tour de France. So Ivan, maybe this step (of the TDF podium) is yours, or maybe it's Jan's. I'm out of it, so it's up to you guys."
The Texan then priased his team, saying, "I couldn't have done this without an excellent team, without an excellent sponsor, the Discovery Channel; we have absolutely the best programme in the world...the best trainers, the best soigneurs and mechanics and I owe them everything. A lot of great people and I owe them everything. A lot of great people and a lot of great years have gone into this."
Armstrong then threw down a parting gauntlet, perhaps speaking more as a cancer survivor that a bike racer, saying, "the people who don't believe in cycling, the cynics, the skeptics; I (feel sorry) for you, I'm sorry you can't dream big and I'm sorry you don't believe in miracles."
Lance then switched gears, paying homage in an emotional tribute to the race that has made his life, the Tour de France. Armstrong was choked up when he told the crowd, "This is one helluva a race, this is a great sporting event and you should believe in these athletes and you should believe in these people. I'm a fan of the Tour de France for as long as I live and there are no secrets; this is the hardest sporting event and hard work wins it. So Vive Le Tour, forever."
At the tumultuous champagne blast at the Discovery Channel team bus, Cyclingnews managed to get a few minutes with Johan Bruyneel, the sports director who has masterminded Lance Armstrong's seven straight Tour titles. Bruyneel was having a hard time wrapping his head around the fact that Armstrong was at the end of his career, saying, "It's difficult for me to think about the emotions I'm feeling in this moment. We've been under stress until yesterday. So all of a sudden to change and say it's over...I don't think I really realise yet, number one, what we have accomplished.
"We've been busy with the Tour day after day, but at the same time I know that this is just something incredible. I think I have to wait a week to see how things go, but it's a great feeling. Because it's the end of a success story that had a happy ending, which is very important. Whatever you remember from something in your life is the way it ended. So I'm very happy that Lance made his decision to retire; I'm not sad at all. I think it's great he had the challenge of winning his seventh straight tour and he did it."
Armstrong finished his career Sunday with 83 yellow jerseys, and his 2005 Tour de France win is the fastest-ever Tour de France, with 3,593km raced in 86 hours, 15 minutes and 2 seconds, at the average speed of 41.654 km/h. Armstrong also holds the second, third and fourth fastest Tour speeds on record: 40.940 km/h (2003), 40.533 km/h (2004), and 40.276 km/h (1999). His final Tour de France palmares include 22 stage wins, with two prologues, nine TTs (two mountain TTs) and 11 en-ligne stages, putting the American fifth on the Tour's all time win list. Armstrong and his Discovery Channel squad will collect prizes of over $US650,000, including his $US500,000 first prize as well as a seventh Sevres bowl to go with his other six Tour winner's trophies.
The best of the rest
Finishing 4'40 behind Armstrong was Italian Ivan Basso, who has just re-signed for three years with Bjarne Riis's CSC squad. With Armstrong retiring, Basso is the favourite to win the 2006 Tour, a race that he already has in mind. Basso told Cyclingnews at the finish that, "The best thing about this Tour is that I got better and better throughout and have always improved the last four years at the Tour. It's a race that I like and I feel good about. However, now I have to try and win the next year's Tour. Today's was the best result that I could have gotten. I attacked whenever I could, but there were other things (Armstrong) that prevented me from doing better."
As for Jan Ullrich, this year he made it back on the podium for the seventh time at Le Tour and the big German diesel will be back in 2006 to give Basso a real run for his money. Ulle paid homage to Lance and looked towards next year, saying, "He really deserves the seventh win. His performance is unique, and deserves a lot of respect." With Armstrong hanging it up, Ullrich is already thinking about 2006, saying, "I hope I'll be back - I will try!" His T-Mobile Team took the Team GC prize, repeating last year's performance as Team Challenge winner, which certainly augurs well for Ullrich's 2006 Tour bid.
Although his time trial Saturday was a disaster and knocked him off the podium, Rabobank's Michael Rasmussen kept his maillot a pois of Best Climber at the Tour de France. With his audacious stage win and special jersey, the great Dane showed he had room to improve in the Tour. "Yes, I was relaxed before the TT yesterday; I thought that it would be good for me. Then everything just sort of fell apart during the race and all I could think about was to finally get into the finish." But the ambitious Rasmussen made big progress at the 92nd Tour and will be back in 2006 to try and go further. "Winning the (polka dot) jersey was one of my objectives at this Tour, and I also won a stage, so I'm very happy and satisfied."
Other than Armstrong, Discovery Channel's Yaro Popovych was their other special jersey winner, as the Ukrainian showed that he might be a Tour contender in two or three years' time. It was the third consecutive maillot blanc by Eastern European riders, and Popo told Cyclingnews, "I started out in this Tour with a very good team - the best in the world. Then we showed exactly that, with Lance's victory. So for me, this white jersey is a very good accomplishment, especially as it's my first Tour; I'm very happy about it. It's a great result, and I hope I can build up on it in the years to come."
Big Norwegian Thor Hushovd managed to take the maillot vert for the points classification, beating Aussies Stuey O'Grady and Robbie McEwen by 12 and 16 points respectively, with McEwen ruing his relegation in a questionable decision on Stage 3 in Tours. Without that, he would certainly have won the maillot vert for the second consecutive year and third time in his career; but he'll be back next year, as will nearly all this year's riders. But there'll be one notable exception - Big Tex.
Previous Lance Armstrong interviews & features on Cyclingnews
July 2005: Ready
for Number 7