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Archive for Sunday, July 28, 2002

Tour de Lance: Armstrong wins fourth straight

July 28, 2002

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— Lance Armstrong won his fourth straight Tour de France on Sunday, handily beating the world's best cyclists in a grueling three-week event he has turned into his personal showcase.

The 30-year-old cancer survivor crossed the finish line on the Champs-Elysees in the bright yellow leader's jersey he has worn since taking control of the race 10 days ago.

Armstrong's tranquil ride to the finish mirrored the rest of the Tour, in which neither rivals nor the demanding course of 2,032 miles seemed to test him.

His final winning margin over second-place Joseba Beloki of Spain was 7 minutes, 17 seconds, making it Armstrong's second-biggest victory. He beat Alex Zuelle by 7:37 in 1999 for his first Tour de France championship.

Raimondas Rumsas of Lithuania was third overall this year, 8:17 back. No other rider finished within 13 minutes of Armstrong.

"I'm really happy to finish," the Texan said. "It's a difficult race, three weeks. It's difficult, mentally. It's good to finish."

On Sunday, he finished in the main pack of riders as they completed the largely ceremonial 20th stage from Melun, outside Paris, to the tree-lined Champs-Elysees.

Thousands of fans watched, many waving U.S. flags, as Armstrong moved within one of the Tour record of five titles. He's the first American to win four (Greg Lemond, the only other U.S. rider to win the Tour, did so three times).

As he went up to the podium for the victory ceremony, Armstrong waved at the crowd, which roared its approval. He smiled broadly when he was presented with a bouquet of yellow flowers that matched his jersey.

Armstrong stood with his cap pressed against his heart as the "Star Spangled Banner" played.

Later, he spoke on the phone with President Bush.

"He's really a sportsman. He said, 'Come, come with me to the White House,'" Armstrong said in French. "He's really a good guy, a fellow Texan."

Armstrong was joined at the victory ceremony by his wife, Kristin, and three children: 2-year-old Luke and 8-month-old twins Isabelle and Grace. The twins were dressed in identical white dresses and white bonnets, to protect them against 91-degree heat.

Armstrong nestled one of the twins in his arms as he left the podium.

Robbie McEwen of Australia - well back in the overall standings - won Sunday's 89.3-mile stage and took the green jersey for the Tour's best sprinter. Laurent Jalabert of France won the red spotted jersey as best climber, while Ivan Basso of Italy won the white jersey for best young rider.

Armstrong, meanwhile, was simply the best.

He seized the lead in the first mountain leg at La Mongie in the Pyrenees, and nearly doubled it by sprinting up a tough climb to the Plateau de Beille in the next day's 12th stage.

On the formidable Mont Ventoux in the southern Provence region, he placed third but took a comfortable lead of 4:21 by finishing nearly 2 minutes in front of Beloki.

"Armstrong has shown he has the blood of champions flowing through his veins," the head of Beloki's team, Manolo Saiz, said after the Ventoux stage.

"He is much stronger than us. We see it day after day."

It was Armstrong's fifth unsuccessful attempt at winning on the Ventoux, but what mattered was stretching his race lead, rather than taking spectacular - and tiring - stage victories.

"The smart thing to do is to ride conservative now," the U.S. Postal Service rider said as he headed to the Alps. "This is not a race to win by as many seconds or minutes as possible, it's a race just to win. So there's no need to be aggressive."

That didn't stop from him adding 45 seconds in the last three mountain stages and winning the final time trial Saturday by nearly a minute.

"I can remember in 1999 being so nervous every day and worried that I would lose the race in an instant," Armstrong said Saturday. "I don't have those fears any more."

Next year, Armstrong will try to tie Miguel Indurain's record of five straight Tour titles (three other men also have won the race five times, though not consecutively).

But Armstrong, diagnosed in 1996 with testicular cancer, knows he already has made his mark on cycling.

"Regardless of one victory, two victories, four victories, there's never been a victory by a cancer survivor," he said. "That's a fact that hopefully I'll be remembered for."

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