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Culture

Armstrong Wins Tour de France

Lance Armstrong secured his unprecedented seventh Tour de France yellow jersey following the 21st and final stage, his final race before retiring -- a move that coses the curtain on an outstanding cycling career.

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Armstrong is the only person to have won the Tour seven times

The 33-year-old Discovery Channel team rider 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.

Alexandre Vinokourov of Kazakhstan, who rides for Ullrich's T-Mobile team, won the 21st and final stage 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.

Michael Rasmussen of the Rabobank team managed to avoid any mishaps and secured the polka dot jersey for the race's best climber while 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.

Tour de France 2005: Basso, (l.) Armstrong (M.) und Ullrich (r.) im Rennen

Tour 2005: Armstrong, Basso und Ullrich

Armstrong came into the race as a favorite despite his imminent retirement, which he decided on a few months ago. 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 catch-up 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.

Ullrich's team tried in vain to attack Armstrong in the mountains, and from the first day in the Alps he was left with a huge deficit of four minutes to the American who finished second behind Spaniard Alejandro Valverde on stage 10 from Briancon to Courchevel.

In the remainder of the race Armstrong simply asked his Discovery Channel team to counter any attacks, and he did not strike himself until the 55.5km time trial in St Etienne on the penultimate day.

Armstrong won the race against the clock 23 seconds ahead of Ullrich to claim his first stage of the race and the 22nd on the Tour de France which he has participated in 11 times.

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 kilometers.

Taking life easy

Armstrong admitted earlier that he will now be taking life easy.

Lance Armstrong mit Freundin Sheryl Crow

Lance Armstrong and his girlfriend US singer Sheryl Crow

"We're going to fly to the south of France and go to the beach for a week, and play with the kids on the beach and drink wine and eat lots of food," said Armstrong, whose girlfriend is rock star Sheryl Crow.

"This job is stressful, and this race is stressful so hopefully the next week will be a preview of what my life will be like for the next 50 years, although I can't promise I won't show up at a few cyclo-cross events or mountain bike or triathlon races.

"I'm an athlete. I've been competing in swimming and running events since I was 12 years old."

Armstrong's first victory on this year's race was his 22nd stage victory from the Tour in 11 participations. And despite dominating his rivals to the extent that he could probably win the tough three-week race with relative ease next year, he affirmed that now was the right time to hang up his bike.

"I'm more convinced (about retiring) now than I've ever been," said Armstrong. "There was no pressure for victory, it was just something I wanted, as a sportsman, to go out on top. That was the only incentive and only pressure."

Biggest sporting comeback

Lance Armstrong

Armstrong, whose stunning comeback from cancer in 1997 to win the Tour 18 months later is considered one of the biggest sporting comebacks ever, admitted he has achieved feats beyond his wildest dreams.

"I've had an unbelievable career. I've been blessed to have a 14-year career, to have won the Tour de France seven times after my illness. Now, I'm blessed with financial rewards I never thought were possible and my life and the life of my kids is going to be comfortable."

With the likes of Basso a likely yellow jersey favorite next year and Ullrich, who finished third on Sunday, still able contenders for the Tour de France, Armstrong admitted that, at the age of 33, time was not on his side.

"Nobody can tell you what happens year after year, but at some point you turn 34 and 35, then others make a big step up and when your age catches up you take a big step down," he added.

"I could have stopped it after six, but Discovery Channel came in with a three-year deal. I had to live up to my promise. Last year there were a lot of things at stake, the sixth victory that would break the record, for example, but this year there was nothing on the line, not one penny."

"Jan is special"

Armstrong's lead in the general classification has left many wondering why he is retiring.

But the American said he won't be worrying about who is winning the race in is absence next year. "It's nice to win with a cushion, but it wouldn't be fair to next year's winner to say 'you're lucky I didn't show up'. Let's just watch next year's race and let the champion be the champion," he said.

Whoever that champion is remains to be seen. With Armstrong gone, there will be plenty of contenders - although the Texan may well be putting his money on Basso, or Ullrich.

Radsportprofi Jan Ullrich unter Dopingverdacht

Jan Ullrich

"Jan is special. He's a special guy to meet, and a special rival. And I've not been bullshitting when I've said he's the scariest guy in the group. I believe he can win the Tour again, and not just once," said Armstrong, who believes the 1997 winner will have an even better chance if he takes some of his advice.

"But he has to show up in a little better shape. A kilo and a half less at the start and better preparation, and he can win. "It's just the first 10 days (of the race). If he changes that, he wins. It's not a criticism. If he was on our team that would be the first thing we would tell him."

And next July?

"I can promise you one thing. I will be parked in front of the TV watching the Tour de France. I'm a cycling fan and in 2006 it will be interesting tactically," added Armstrong.

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