Lance Armstrong broke all records to become the first six-time winner of the Tour de France on Sunday. As in years past, a German stood next to him on the podium, but it was not Jan Ullrich.
All eyes are on Lance Armstrong.
Going into the 20th and final stage of the Tour de France, there were no doubts about who would stand atop the winner's podium in Paris on Sunday. Lance Armstrong, having won the world's most prestigious cycling race five times before, was the obvious winner long before the first racers passed the finish line on the Champs Elysees.
The 32-year-old American was in prime form for this year's competition. Even the dreaded six-time victory curse, which had prevented previous record holders Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain from making history, couldn't keep him from pedaling ahead of the pack for five stage victories and the overall title.
With Armstrong so definitively ahead of the rivals in points, the real competition came down to the second-place finish. As in the past five years, it was a German who trailed Armstrong. But it wasn't the perennial Jan Ullrich, who finished sixth overall this year.
Instead, Andreas Klöden, Ullrich's T-Mobile teammate, stood next to Armstrong in the winner's circle.
A new German second
29-year-old Andreas Klöden is Germany's new cycling hero.
After turning in a strong performance in the final time trial on Saturday to snatch the runner-up place away from the widely favored Italian Ivan Basso, Klöden held his position along the 163-kilometer stretch from Montereau to Paris. Although he finished 38th on Sunday, it was still enough to guarantee him the overall second-place standing.
Klöden, who earned bronze at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and won the prestigious Paris-Nice race that same year, alerting the cycling world to his potential, has been an unreliable rider in recent years.
In 2001 he finished 26th in the Tour de France and did not take part in it the following year. He abandoned the race in 2003, only to come back to the team this year.
"We know that Andreas is talented," said his T-Mobile team manager, Walter Godefroot. "But we also know he is fragile. In 2000, he had health problems, injured his knee and back. But talent is talent and we kept faith in him."
Now six-time Tour de France winner lance Armstrong flanked by second-placed Andreas Klöden of Germany (left) and third-placed Ivan Basso of Italy.
In this year's Tour, Klöden came close to beating Armstrong in a sprint to the line during the 17th stage from Bourg-d'Oisans to Le Grand Bornard. He came in third on the 16th stage time trial up L'Alpe d'Huez, behind Ullrich and winner Armstrong. On Saturday's 19th stage time trial he started out 62 seconds behind Basso, but was able to pull out ahead.
"His best quality is that he's a really smooth roller," said Godefroot. "He's fast in the mountains and on the flats, even if he lacks a bit of strength."
In the end, Klöden trailed Armstrong by over six minutes and was just 20 seconds ahead of Basso.
"I am totally proud," Klöden said basking in the winner's champagne. "It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience to stand here on the podium."