In the end, the 21st and final stage to Paris became a
procession for seven-time winner Lance Armstrong in more ways than one when rain
and the wet cobblestones of the finishing Paris street circuit dictated that
the field basically crossed the finish line the first time in relative calm and essentially declare Armstrong the winner.

All he had to do for the remaining laps of this 92nd
Tour was to stay upright and out of trouble and the race was already his, which
he did after an earlier scare on the ride into Paris when he narrowly escaped a
prang among his own Discovery Channel team mates who fell just in front of him
rounding a curve.

In the days ahead there will be much said and written about the
“legacy of Lance.” But without a shadow of a doubt when his personal history
of a miraculous comeback from cancer is combined with his great deeds, his
heroic achievements in and out of the saddle educated the world’s most powerful
and insular sporting media in the US to appreciate the essence of
what is so special about the world’s great annual sporting event. Many of Armstrong’s countrymen made
the pilgrimage to join the thronging crowds to be part of Armstrong’s last
stand in Paris.

Of course there’s the other side of Armstrong, the litigator,
control freak and fierce protector of his reputation, which has frequently
been questioned by, among others, The Times – which today makes this
case

for why it will be good for the race to see the back of him: “And will
he be missed? Like hell he will. He has exerted an all-powerful,
unchallengeable influence over the event, but you will not find too
many
bemoaning his departure. Indeed, they will be queuing up to drive him
to
Charles de Gaulle airport and breathing collective sighs of relief to
waft his
private jet back to Texas for the final time.”

Today almost saw Bradley McGee deliver Australia
yet another Paris
stage victory when he looked to pinch the stage win with a breakaway in the
last kilometre, but just failed to hold off Alexandre Vinokourov in the mad dash
to the line.

As for other Australian business of the day, sure enough the battle
for the green points jersey went down to the wire as the Norwegian Thor Hushovd
held off Stuart O’Grady and Robbie McEwen who for the first
time in several years didn’t figure in the finish right on the line. But the
pair still occupied fifth and sixth spot – with five Aussie sprinters in the
first ten over the line.

Cadel Evans’s overall eighth place (11:55 down on the winner
in the General Classification) is cause for great celebration in Australian
cycling. All the experts now agree he’s going to be a force in the race in
the years ahead, particularly when the mountains come calling.

Peter Fray

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