Armstrong says 'Vive le Tour' after seventh win

25th July 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, July 24 (AFP) - American Lance Armstrong waved goodbye to what has been a remarkable cycling career after securing his seventh consecutive yellow jersey following the 21st and final stage of the Tour de France here Sunday.

PARIS, July 24 (AFP) - American Lance Armstrong waved goodbye to what has been a remarkable cycling career after securing his seventh consecutive yellow jersey following the 21st and final stage of the Tour de France here Sunday.

The 33-year-old Discovery Channel team leader, who announced his retirement a few months ago, finished the race with a 4min 40sec lead on Italian Ivan Basso with Germany's Jan Ullrich, the 1997 winner, finishing third on the podium at 6:21 behind Armstrong.

After the race he stood on the podium beside Basso and Ullrich, both of whom are likely to be big rivals for the race's main prize next year.

Armstrong admitted both of them had been outstanding rivals.

"It's a dream podium I'm standing on here. Jan is a special person and a special rival," said Armstrong as he turned to the German.

"Ivan, well you are just tough to race against. You're too much of a friend but maybe you're the future of the race for the years to come."

Turning to both, Armstrong added: "Ivan, maybe it's your turn next year, or Jan, maybe it will be yours."

After briefly criticising the doubters who claim that his exploits have been achieved through illicit means - he has faced accusations of doping in the past - Armstrong had only one thing to say: "Vive le Tour. Forever."

Alexandre Vinokourov of Kazakhstan, who rides for Ullrich's T-Mobile team, won the 21st and final stage held over 144km after pulling ahead of Australian Brad McGee in the last 200 metres on the Champs Elysees.

It was Vinokourov's second stage win of this year's race after his stunning win on the second day in the Alps on stage 11, and his third in a career which has also seen him finish third overall on the Tour, in 2003.

His stage win also allowed the 31-year-old to move up one place to fifth at the expense of American Levi Leipheimer, who had been hoping for a top five finish.

Michael Rasmussen of the Rabobank team managed, unlike his disastrous time trial on Saturday, to avoid any mishaps and secured the polka dot jersey for the race's best climber.

Norwegian Thor Hushovd of Credit Agricole won the points classification whose prize is the green jersey.

Yaroslav Popovych, of Armstrong's Discovery Channel team, won the race's white jersey for the best placed rider in the general classification aged 25 years or under.

Armstrong came into the race as a favourite despite his imminent retirement, which he decided on a few months ago in order to spend more time with his three young children from his previous marriage.

And the American made sure he gave his rivals no quarter with a time trial performance on the first stage which left Ullrich and Basso playing catchup at over a minute behind.

Ullrich, a five-time runner-up, has now claimed his sixth podium place on the race. The 31-year-old T-Mobile team leader came fourth last year - the first time in his career he had finished off the podium.

The German, who did not take part in the Tour in 1999 when Armstrong won his first yellow jersey and was absent from the 2002 edition, said he will try and do his best next year.

"It's Lance's seventh win, and he deserves it. I hope I can win next year. I will try," he said after finally making the podium following his second place to Armstrong in the time trial on Saturday.

On the final stage from the suburbs of Paris to the finish line at the world famous Champs Elysees, Armstrong avoided a potential disaster when he narrowly missed crashing before they had arrived in the capital.

The roads were slippery after a night of rain and his teammate George Hincapie, who won the most difficult climbing stage of the race last week, came crashing down on a right hand turn.

Two other Discovery riders followed suit and Armstrong had to brake to avoid the same fate.

Once into the capital, however, the sprinters teams eventually took over the race. With the green jersey still to play for, as well as the prestigious final stage of the race, there were numerous attacks in the final few kilometres.

However there was a shock in the final kilometres as McGee, who had been hoping to secure a first victory on this year's edition for his Francaise des Jeux team, attacked with a little over a kilometre to race.

The Aussie's move shook up the teams trying to chase him down, but Vinokourov wisely followed his wheel.

McGee finally ran out of steam in the final few hundred metres, where Vinokourov was able to benefit from the energy saved by following his wheel to pull past McGee shortly before the finish line.

"When McGee attacked in the final kilometre I knew I had to follow him.

"But I had to dig deep. I gave it everything I could but I was still afraid they might catch us," said Vinokourov, who dedicated his victory to his deceased compatriot and friend Andrei Kivilev, who died in a tragic accident during the Paris-Nice stage race two years ago.


Subject. French news

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