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Stage 20   Main · Minute-by-Minute · Results
Wilcockson Tour Spotlight · Stage Details

Armstrong arrives in Paris

This report filed July 25, 1999

By Charles Pelkey
VeloNews technical editor

The Tour de France’s final laps around the famed Champs-Elysees are as much a victory parade as they are a bike race. The parade, both a celebration of the arrival of the 141 riders who rode the 3686.8 kilometers to get to Paris, and an occasion to crown another champion at the end of another Tour. But the Tour’s final stage is also one of its most highly prized jewels, and as Lance Armstrong and the U.S. Postal team cruised into Paris, confirming the 27-year-old Texan’s hold on the yellow jersey, there was still one more bike race to be contested and from that perspective the Tour’s final stage belonged to Rabobank’s Australian sprinter Robbie McEwen.

But the day and the Tour belonged to Armstrong, who ended the three-week race 7:37 ahead of runner-up Alex Zulle of Banesto and 10:26 ahead of third-placed Fernando Escartin of Kelme-Costa Blanca. The Texan’s victory will go down in history as perhaps the most remarkable comeback in sports: Armstrong fought and conquered an advanced form of testicular cancer in late 1996, and he has now won what is arguably the toughest sports event in the world. But more than just coming back, Armstrong returned to the race after a two-year absence and took command of this Tour, winning the opening prologue at Le Puy du Fou, the time trials at Metz and Futuroscope, and a tough mountain stage to Sestriere.

And this morning, all that stood between Armstrong and the final podium was the 143-kilometer ride from Arpajon to Paris. It was a relaxed Armstrong who mounted his bike – today equipped with a pair of yellow anodized wheels – and headed off to the crowning moment of what has been a road much longer and far more difficult than a simple loop around France.

As is traditional, there were no attacks on the first portion of today’s stage, leaving the day’s real contest to be fought out on 10, 6.5-kilometer loops around the Champs-Elysees.

Telekom’s Erik Zabel, nearly as secure in the green points jersey as Armstrong was in yellow, didn’t contest the first intermediate sprint, his target a stage win in Paris. For the Tour’s final climb – a Cat. 4 bump on the way to Paris – did offer Polti’s Richard Virenque a chance to tighten his grip on the polka-dot climber’s jersey, the fifth time the Moroccan-born French rider has earned the honor. And then the U.S. Postal squad led the way into th heart of Paris, with the yellow jersey riding proudly behind his six devoted teammates. The line of Postal riders led the race all the way up to the Arc de Triomphe, where the Tour’s final intermediate sprint saw George Hincapie, Frankie Andreu and Pascal Derame take the top three spots.

But the time for ceremony was – at least temporarily – over. Attacks began in earnest as hopeful riders tried their luck. But Zabel’s Telekoms were in no mood to let another stage win elude their green jersey holder. Zabel had been repeatedly frustrated throughout the Tour by riders like Mapei’s Tom Steels – who rode the German’s wheel into the final sprint into Bordeaux – and four-stage winner Mario Cipollini of Saeco-Cannondale.

Here in Paris, the Telekoms and Steels’s Mapeis rode herd on the field neutralizing any and all attempts at escape. The last was a final-kilometer charge by Festina’s Laurent Brochard, an effort that had it succeeded would have made him this Tour’s first and only French stage winner. But it was not to be. Brochard was gobbled up by a Telekom-lead train.

The German squad readying Zabel for what would be his only stage win, picked up the pace, putting their sprint specialist in a prime spot to launch his effort. But Zabel was keenly aware that Steels was again on his back wheel. And this time McEwen was right on the wheel of the Belgian.

As the Telekoms began pulling off one-by-one, Zabel launched his charge. Surprisingly, Steels appeared to freewheel not contesting the sprint. But this time, it came down to a one-on-one contest between the green jersey and a young Australian sprint specialist who had yet to win a stage in any of his three Tours. And McEwen was feeling ready for this one.

"It was a good feeling to know that I was always up there with the best sprinters, but I came here to win one," McEwen said later. "I knew today was my last chance, so I was really determined."

And that determination won out. The Rabobank rider charged past Zabel, a man who has now matched the record of Sean Kelly, who was the first rider to win four points jerseys.

McEwen, who has in recent days been in a very public dispute with his team said that the win is unlikely to save that relationship. "Two days ago, it was said I’ll be leaving the Rabobank team and that still stands," McEwen said, adding that his chances of landing on another squad probably improved greatly with today’s win.

But in the end, the day and the month of July really belonged to the U.S. Postal Service rider who stood atop the podium in Paris, thousands of miles and nearly a lifetime away from those dark days in 1996 when he could hardly have imagined racing again.

"It isn’t Hollywood, it isn’t Disney," Armstrong told a Saturday evening press conference. "This is a true story…"

And one, it seems, with a very happy ending.

Preliminary stage report: It's Armstrong's Tour, McEwen's stage

This report filed July 25, 1999

By Charles Pelkey
VeloNews technical editor

It’s over. The 1999 Tour de France has ended on the grand avenues of the Champs Elysees. Yes, the U.S. Postal Service’s Lance Armstrong finished with the field, easily protecting his substantial lead over Banesto’s Alex Zulle and Kelme’s Fernando Escartin and becoming the second American to win the world’s toughest bicycle race. Rabobank’s Robbie McEwen beat Telekom’s Erik Zabel to the line, frustrating yet another attempt at a stage win by the German sprint specialist. But Zabel at least had a reasonably good consolation prize today. The Telekom team leader – today clad entirely in green, riding a green bike – earned his fourth green points jersey and matching the record of Ireland’s Sean Kelly. Polti’s Richard Virenque – once officially disinvited from this Tour – has earned his fifth polka-dot climbers jersey.



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