Armstrong ends on a high note

By wire services
Published July 24, 2005

SAINT-ETIENNE, France - The sky was deep blue, smiling on Lance Armstrong. His yellow jersey glistened with hope in sharp contrast to his pitch-black Trek bike, the instrument by which Armstrong was about to put his final emphatic mark on the 2005 Tour de France.

Riding in his last individual time trial at his last professional race, Armstrong, the 33-year-old cancer survivor and record-setting winner of six straight Tours, demolished the field Saturday.

Finishing in 1 hour, 11 minutes, 46 seconds at an average speed of 28.8 mph, Armstrong won the 34.5-mile race against the clock and all but clinched his seventh straight victory. The stage win was the 22nd of his career. Eleven were time trials. Armstrong also won three team trials with his support riders - including this year's.

"Quite honestly, I wasn't absolutely sure I could do it. I thought Jan would be strong," Armstrong said of Germany's Ullrich, "and then when I got to the first check I saw that Ivan (Basso) was seven seconds up and I thought, "Oh, boy, this could be an interesting day.' I ended up turning things around and winning. So, pleasant surprise."

The 2,254-mile, 21-stage trip around France ends today with a ride into Paris. For Armstrong and his Discovery Channel teammates, it will be an emotional celebration as well as a bit of melancholy farewell. It is with "no regrets," Armstrong said he will end a 14-year professional career that has been as notable for his recovery from near-fatal cancer nine years ago as for his soon-to-be seven Tour titles. Armstrong increased his overall lead over Basso of Italy from 2:46 to 4:40. Ullrich moved into third place, 6:21 behind.

Last year, when Armstrong became the first to win six consecutive Tours, his children did not attend. Saturday Armstrong fought back tears as he pointed to 5-year-old Luke and 3-year-old twins Grace and Isabelle, his mother, Linda, and his girlfriend, Sheryl Crow.

"My children are here, thank goodness," Armstrong said. "Come Monday morning we'll wake up in Paris. We'll fly to the south of France, lie on the beach, drink wine, not ride a bike, eat a lot of food, splash in the pool and not worry about a thing. This job is stressful, this race is stressful. Hopefully the next week will be a preview of what my life will be for the next 50 years."

As race leader, Armstrong set out last of 155 riders. On July 2, 189 riders had taken the start. He led at all but one of the five time checks, trailing Basso by seven seconds at the 17-kilometer mark. Basso had begun the day hoping to hold off five-time runnerup Ullrich and he did, though Ullrich finished second, 23 seconds behind Armstrong. Ullrich passed hard-luck Dane Mickael Rasmussen for third place overall.

Rasmussen started the day 2:12 ahead of Ullrich in third. But Rasmussen, who wore the polka dot jersey for earning the most points in the climbing competition, crashed twice, needed four new bikes and finished 77th on the day, falling to seventh overall.

John Kerry, the Massachusetts senator and losing 2004 presidential candidate, rode in the Discovery Channel car with team director Johan Bruyneel. Kerry came, he said, because Armstrong and Crow had been in Boston the night Kerry lost the presidential election. "I am a huge fan," Kerry said. "I know the whole country is very proud of him."