U.S. Postal's Lance Armstrong won an unprecedented sixth consecutive Tour de France Sunday, besting his closest competitor by over six minutes in the overall standings. "Everything went perfectly," the Texan said in French on the three-step victory podium. "The tactics, the training, everything. The team was the best one here."
Lance Armstrong wins a history-making sixth Tour de France victory
Lance Armstrong wins a history-making sixth Tour de France
Asked if he would be back next year, Armstrong replied, "I can't see myself not being in the Tour." Pressed then to say that he would defend his championship, he answered only, "We'll see."
Armstrong owed his overwhelming success in this year's Tour to obsessive training and preparation, and to his top-notch team of professional cyclists. U.S. Postal's director, Johann Bruyneel, offered high praise to the men who supported their team leader throughout the race by riding in formation to protect Armstrong from crashes and help him to conserve energy for important attacks.
"It's a team that exists only for the Tour," Bruyneel told The New York Times. "Everything that they do beforehand serves only to prepare for this objective. They're all fine riders with lots of experience."
Armstrong was content to finish at the back of the peloton Sunday, enjoying his sixth Tour win and staying out of the sprinters' way at the front of the race. After all, there was no threat to the Texan's overall standing. Whereas Armstrong won last year's race by a mere 61 seconds, this year he bested closest competitor Andréas Klön (T-Mobile) by 6:19 and posted a total of five Tour stage winsthe most ever for the U.S. Postal leader.
Tom Boonen (Quick Step-Davitamon) won the final stage of the Tour in a rush for the finish line on the 102-mile course from Montereau to Paris, which included eight laps around the Champs-Élysées in the city's downtown.
Italian rider Ivan Basso (CSC) placed third 6:40 behind Armstrong and in front of long-time Armstrong rival Jan Ullrich (T-Mobile). Ullrich's fourth place finish 8:50 behind the Texan was a career worst for the German. Armstrong teammate and U.S. Postal domestique José Azevedo finished fifth overall.
In the other classifications, Australian rider Robbie McEwen (Lotto-Domo) clinched his second career green jersey in the sprinter classification and Frenchman Richard Virenque (Quick Step-Davitamon) won an unprecedented seventh polka dotted jersey in the climbing, or King of the Mountain, classification. Russian rider Vladimir Karpets (Illes Balears-Banesto) took the white jersey for the best young rider after wresting it from French National Champion Thomas Voeckler (Brioches La Boulangere). Voeckler, who had worn the yellow jersey for more days than any other Frenchman in over a decade, lost the jersey to Karpets after Stage 19's individual time trial Saturday. T-Mobile placed first in the overall team standings with U.S. Postal on its heels in second and CSC in third.
Sunday's stage proved to play out as expected with the sprinters having their last chance to shine on the final stage of the Tour and much of the rest of the peloton taking the stage relatively easy.
A break by Nicolas Jalabert (Phonak), Oscar Pereiro Sio (Phonak), Juan Antonio Flecha (Fassa Bortolo), José Ivan Gutierrez (Illes Balears-Banesto), Paolo Bettini (Quick Step- Davitamon), Thomas Voeckler (Brioches La Boulangere), Scott Sunderland (Alessio Bianchi), Mikel Astarloza (Ag2r), Karsten Kroon (Rabobank), and Axel Merckx (Lotto-Domo) garnered the group a lead of about 40 seconds but, with under six miles remaining in the Tour, the group was chased down, with Ullrich leading the catch.
Attacks by Jalabert, Flecha, and Fabian Cancellara (Fassa Bortolo) ultimately failed in the final laps. The sprinters gave it their all to cross the finish line, and Boonen was able to grab his second stage win of the Tour. Nazon finished second on the day while Danilo Hondo (Gerolsteiner), McEwen, and Erik Zabel (T-Mobile) rounded out the top five.
With Armstrong opting out of the Olympics (and American Levi Leipheimer (Rabobank), who finished ninth in this year's Tour, replacing him), Discovery Channel taking over U.S. Postal's sponsorship, and much of Armstrong's team slated to return, the only question remaining is whether the Texan will attempt to score a seventh win in 2005.