After a rocky ride in last year’s Tour, this year Lance Armstrong, helped along by his blue train, has once again made it look easy, though not without a touch of controversy.
In today’s final stage as the riders started off for the 163km Montreau Montreau – Paris-Champs-Elysees, and the eight criterium laps in Paris, it was clear that the most excitement would be generated by Robbie McEwan’s quest to hold onto the Maillot Vert and Ivan Basso possibly attempting to make up the 20 seconds on Klöden. Or would it?
Custom dictates that the final stage is something of a parade ride until Paris, where the eight-lap criterium sees some seriously fast racing. But, Filippo Simeoni, apparently still feeling Armstrong’s personal intervention to prevent him riding with a breakaway group on Friday, had other ideas. He attacked from the gun, and made the first ten minutes far more entertaining than they otherwise would have been as Postal led the surprised peloton in pursuit.
Simeoni was quickly caught, but the race had become very personal for the second time in three days and his ‘I piss on your parade’ point was made abundantly clear. Nor was it over for Simeoni: With around 70km to go he made another attack bid, this time reeled in a lot more quickly, and then two more frustrated attempts to attack before the US Postal team led the peloton into Paris.
Elysees, with Tom Boonen of Quick.Step-Davitamon eventually emerging victorious. McEwan battled until the end to take third place and keep the green jersey – a well-deserved victory.
There then followed a blisteringly fast eight laps of the Champs
Under no pressure for his position at the top, Armstrong took it relatively easy and let the others fight it out for the rest. He finished his Tour a substantial 6:38 ahead of Andreas Klöden and 6:59 ahead of Ivan Basso and took away his record-breaking sixth consecutive Tour title.
It’s an amazing feat, during which Armstrong has demonstrated his ability to dominate in all kinds of conditions: mountain stages, time trials, team time trials, uphill sprints – you name it, he’s won it, showing that his position at the top isn’t down to any one advantage. The discipline and determination of the US Postal team is vital, but it’s Armstrong who inspires their commitment and sets the bar high. While other riders reached their fitness peak too late (Ullrich) and others, like Mayo, peaked too early, Armstrong timed his preparation to perfection and before the race was half through, no-one looked in a postion likely to challenge him.
He may not have made many new friends this year, and I doubt he’ll be on Simeoni’s Christmas card list, but he’ll certainly have notched up many more respectful admirers.
So, how will the Tour organisers try to rein him in next year?