In Paris, It's Vive le Lance
"Certainly!" he said to a French television interviewer, when asked about next year's Tour. "I love the bike. I love my job. Next year, I'll be back for a sixth try."
Later he said, "The other years, I won by six, seven minutes. [This year's squeaker] makes it more exciting and sets up an attempt for number six."
"I'll be back next year, and I'm not coming back to be second. But hopefully to come back to the level I was in the first four times. Before next year's Tour, I won't be so confident."
Ullrich also promised to return. "Overall, I can't be sad," he said. "I came here hoping to win a stage. My goal was to get ready for next year."
The specter of Armstrong battling adversity to win a fifth Tour seemed to endear him a bit more to French cycling fans, who have always respected, but never loved, him. And despite the differences over policies on Iraq that drove the governments of Washington and Paris apart in the spring, there was little anti-Americanism evident among the tens of thousands who packed the Champs-Elysees.
"At the level of politics, it's true, the Americans make a lot of mistakes -- they want to be the imperialists of the world," said Guillaume Francois, who was watching the Tour pass while leaning against his own bicycle. "But in France, we can still separate politics from other activities."
"He is a great champion," said Alban Guillemont, a student. He called Armstrong's performance here "amazing." Asked about anti-American sentiment here, he said, "I think it's kind of strange. George Bush is not all of America. The country is so huge and so big."
The huge contingent of American cycling enthusiasts also said they found no hostility among French hosts and fans along the route. "I didn't pick up anything," said Charles Pahl of Minneapolis, wearing a red, white and blue jersey of Armstrong's U.S. Postal Service team. "I was surprised. I thought there'd be a little [anti-Americanism]," he said. "They were just as gracious as ever."
"They treated us fabulously," said Dean Thorley of Canton, Ohio. They've been really pleasant." He said one upside of fewer Americans coming to France is that "we haven't had to wait in line for museums."
And whenever Armstrong races, his battle with testicular cancer, which had metastasized to his abdomen, lungs and brain, is never forgotten. The cancer was diagnosed in 1996, and Armstrong watched the '98 Tour as he recovered from treatment. His cancer in remission, Armstrong then assumed his cycling career was over.
"It's kind of mystical," said Sally Bradshaw, an elementary school gym teacher from Gloucester, Mass., whose family has been touched by the disease. "I don't think cancer can touch your life and leave you unscathed. It can't. It changes you."
© 2003 The Washington Post Company
Lance Armstrong, followed by teammate Roberto Heras, drinks champagne as he finishes the 20th and last stage of the 90th Tour de France on Sunday.
(Franck Fife - AFP)
Images from Lance Armstrong's dramatic victory in the 2003 Tour de France.