American Lance Armstrong has closed out his amazing cycling career with a record-setting seventh consecutive victory in the Tour de France. Rainy conditions caused race organizers to stop the clock and officially award the overall victory to Armstrong before Alexandre Vinokourov of Kazakhstan won Sunday's 21st and final stage in a sprint finish.
Thirty-three year-old cancer survivor Lance Armstrong finished the final race before his retirement four minutes and 40 seconds ahead of Italy's Ivan Basso in the overall standings. German rider Jan Ullrich was third, six minutes and 21 seconds back. On the podium after the race, the Texan talked about his competitors.
"First thing I'd like to say is for me to end a career with this podium is really a dream podium," Mr. Armstrong says. "So Ivan, next year maybe this is your step (first place) or Jan, maybe this is your step. I am out of it so it is up to you guys."
Alexandre Vinokourov surged ahead of the main pack to beat Australia's Bradley McGee and Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland to the finish line and won the 144-point-five-kilometer stage (from Corbeil-Essonnes to Paris) in three hours, 40 minutes and 57 seconds.
Armstrong completed the race in a Tour-record average speed of almost 42 kilometers-per-hour (41.654 kph). He ends his career having earned 83 yellow jerseys, second only to Belgian cyclist Eddie Merckx (Merx), who won 111. Points classification winner Thor Hushovd of Norway won the green jersey, while Michael Rasmussen of Denmark earned the polka-dot jersey as King of the Mountains.
The Texan started the day wearing the overall race leader's yellow jersey. As he rode toward Paris, Armstrong toasted his teammates with a flute of champagne before holding up seven fingers to signify his seventh straight Tour de France title. Armstrong gave credit to his team.
"I could not have done this without an excellent team, without an excellent sponsor in the Discovery Channel. We have absolutely the best program in the world -- the best trainers, the best mechanics, and I owe them everything," Mr. Armstrong says.
The final stage was not without incident. Three of Armstrong's teammates slipped on the wet pavement and crashed just before crossing the River Seine. Armstrong skidded into the fallen riders but was able to stay on his bike. His teammates, wearing special shirts with a band of yellow on the right shoulder, recovered and led him up the Champs-Elysees at the front of the main pack.
Armstrong looked gaunt and hollow-cheeked standing on the winner's podium after the taxing three-week race. With the Arc de Triomph in the background, he was overcome by emotion standing next to his yellow-clad twin daughters and son.
As he retired from professional cycling with what he says are "absolutely no regrets," Armstrong saluted the sport's most prestigious event itself, while taking a parting shot at those who refused to believe that a cancer survivor could compete at his level without using performance-enhancing substances.
And finally, the last thing I'll say for the people who don't believe in cycling - the cynics and the skeptics. I'm sorry for you," Mr. Armstrong says. "I'm sorry you can't dream big and I'm sorry you don't believe in miracles. But this is hard sporting event and hard work wins it, so Vive le Tour, forever. Thank you (applause fades)."