It's over. Seven Tours de France in seven years. Eighty-three yellow jerseys. Twenty-one stage victories.
Discovery team portrait
Discovery team portrait
With a smile the size of Texas, Lance Armstrong crossed the finish line in Paris after 86 hours, 15 minutes, and two seconds of riding over 2,242 miles, etching his name into history as the most dominant rider ever in the Tour de France, and leaving his career as a professional cyclist on the zenith of his powers.
The 33-year-old took the podium with his three children at his side, kissing his final pair of models, and held his final spoilsthe trophy, a bouquet, the saffron stuffed lion, and the yellow jersey he has virtually owned since 1999, the year Armstrong won his first Tour after recovering from testicular cancer.
Team CSC's Ivan Basso finished second, and German Jan Ullrich, Armstrong's greatest rival over the past seven years, was on his left in third place as the Star-Spangled Banner rang out over the Champs-Elysees.
"For me to end a career with this podium is perfect. It's really a dream podium," Armstrong told the Outdoor Life Network (OLN), addressing the crowd from the tallest of three awards platforms. He thanked his sponsors and competitors, then alluded to the cavernous hole that will exist in the peloton next year by his retirement. "Ivan, maybe this is your step or Jan, maybe this is yours. I'm out of it, so it's up to you guys."
Rain on the final day in Paris caused race referees to stop the clock due to fears that the riders would crash en masse on the eight laps and tight turns around the Champs-Elysees. The decision gave Armstrong the victory without the need to ride hard for the finish line. However, after Armstrong won the individual time trial yesterdayhis first stage victory of the yearhis win was sealed. Armstrong rode part of the day with a glass of champagne in hand, flashing the number seven to the cameras.
The referees' decision to kill the clock didn't stop the sprinters in their fight for the final stage victory of the Tour. T-Mobile's Alexandre Vinokourov, the national champion of his native Kazakhstan, who has continually challenged the leaders with bold attacks throughout the Tour, blasted out of the peloton with just under a mile to go. He held off Bradley McGee of Francaise des Jeux and Fassa Bortolo's Fabian Cancellara to win his second stage of the Tour.
Behind him, Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole) was sprinting to fend off Cofidis' Stuart O'Grady and Davitamon-Lotto's Robbie McEwen in the points competitionthe only jersey left undecided coming into Paris.
Though Hushovd was beaten by both, the lion's share of points went to Vinokourov, and with 194 collected over the course of the Tour, Hushovd kept the green jersey he has worn since the previous leader, Tom Boonen (Quick-Step), abandoned the race in Stage 12. O'Grady was just behind him with 182 points.
Confusion lingered about the overall standings behind Armstrong even after the last riders had crossed the line. With the clock stopped, the referees had originally announced that riders would not be given time bonuses for placing highly in the intermediate sprint to the finish line. That appeared to mean Gerolsteiner's Levi Leipheimer, who was just 77 hundredths of a second ahead of Vinokourov, had clinched fifth place and there would be no head-to-head sprint between the two elite riders.
But the sun came out and dried the course along the Champs-Elyssees over the final laps. After Vinokourov crossed the line, the judges announced that the usual time bonuses would be awarded for the day's top positions. The critical seconds Vinokourov was awarded for winning the day shot him into fifth, ahead of Leipheimer, who finished sixth.
In the overall standings Armstrong beat Basso by 4:40, the second slimmest margin of his seven Tour victories. Ullrich was 6:21 behind in third, and Illes Balear's Francisco Mancebo finished 9:59 back.
After a powerful showing in the Alps and Pyrenees, riding with and even ahead of Armstrong through the mountain stages, Mickael Rasmussen won the polka dot climber's jersey. Discovery Channel's Yaroslav Popovych was awarded the white jersey for the best young rider.
The award for the most combatitive rider of the race was given to Oscar Pereiro (Phonak) who launched the most aggressive attacks, winning one stage and finishing close in several others. He finished 10th overall.
T-Mobile, the team boasting the likes of Ullrich, Vinokourov, and Andreas Kloden, who abandoned in Stage 17 with a broken wrist, won the overall team competition, finishing with a cumulative 14:57 ahead of Armstrong's Discovery Channel team.