Just as he had hoped and planned, Lance Armstrong stood on the podium, wearing yellow and celebrating his seventh consecutive Tour de France victory.
And, just as he had said, it was his farewell appearance.
"Vive le Tour," said Armstrong, 33. He urged "cynics and skeptics" to get behind cycling and its athletes, a not terribly veiled reference to the doubts that have trailed him and the drug-plagued sport for many years.
"I'm sorry you don't believe in miracles. But this is a hell of a race," he said. "You should believe in these athletes, and you should believe in these people. I'll be a fan of the Tour de France for as long as I live. And there are no secrets -- this is a hard sporting event and hard work wins it."
Armstrong's first Tour triumph in 1999 provoked astonishment. Subsequent victories brought escalating adulation, suspicion and finally entrenched admiration on both sides of the Atlantic.
And now, on Monday, it's on to the rest of his life.
Armstrong will leave for a vacation in the south of France with his three children and rock-star girlfriend Sheryl Crow, kicking off what he says will be a more private phase of his life.
"An individual can never dictate their legacy," he said. "That's not my job. It doesn't matter. Whatever the people decide it is, it is. I'm a kid from Texas that learned how to ride a bike fast and overcame a life-threatening illness to come back and win the hardest sporting event in the world seven times. So I'll let the other people write on the tombstone."
Ever since surviving testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs, abdomen and brain, Armstrong has used death as his reference point.
"I've always said I'm a lucky guy," he said a few days ago. "I'm lucky just to be here."
His racing luck over 15,000-plus Tour miles is indisputable. He has been largely immune to the flat tires, wrecks and radio static that afflict most riders at least once in a while -- although he nearly tumbled over a teammate who crashed on a wet road Sunday outside Paris.
Armstrong was truly in trouble during his Tour streak only a handful of times. The day in the Vosges mountains during this Tour in which he and his Discovery Channel team were caught off-guard doesn't really count as one of them. The peloton split at the base of one of the first substantial climbs and Armstrong was isolated, but he proceeded to do just fine without his usual flashing-light escort of teammates.
Even after the head-scratching post-mortems, he seemed to go it alone, seemingly unperturbed, more often than usual in the high mountains.
"Racing is not just win, win, win," said five-time Tour winner Bernard Hinault. "It's controlling, managing. If the locomotive works well, the rest follows. The stage in the Vosges where the team was a little weak, he didn't panic. The rest of the time, the team has done what it had to. . . . I think this year the rivals made the team work a little harder."
Armstrong had two winning days -- Saturday's individual time trial and the team time trial in Stage 4 -- in contrast with the scorched-earth approach he took in his record-breaking sixth Tour win in 2004, in which he won six stages. Yet he wore the yellow jersey for 17 days, more than in any of his other victories.
"It was a very technical, tactical win, almost antiseptic," said Armstrong's former U.S. Postal Service teammate Jonathan Vaughters.
Armstrong's 4-minute 40-second margin of victory over Italy's Ivan Basso was his second-smallest of the seven titles. It was built with the basics, as he related Saturday, recalling a conversation with Discovery Channel team director Johan Bruyneel.
"Johan and I were sitting down one night, and he said, 'You know how many attacks it takes to win the Tour de France? One. One attack and two good time trials. Tour finished.' So we stuck with that protocol and it worked."
Armstrong was shut out of a stage win in the Pyrenees, the mountains that decided the race for him so many times, but had the satisfaction of seeing two teammates, longtime friend George Hincapie and Tour of Italy winner Paolo Savoldelli, earn single-day victories for themselves.
Sunday's weather was muted -- overcast skies and intermittent rain that prompted race organizers to declare the overall standings fixed as the riders rolled up the slippery cobblestones of the Champs-Elysees on the first of eight finishing circuits. The sun emerged at the end for the award ceremonies.
But Armstrong deflected talk that the race was anticlimactic for him. "I was always matched when it came to the mountains," he said. "I wouldn't say I was ever bored."
Now, it's off to the next phase. Armstrong has said he intends to spend more time with his children. He plans to remain heavily involved with his cancer foundation and as co-owner of the Discovery Channel team.
Some of his friends say they can't imagine how Armstrong will channel his energy. He has been known to make surprise appearances at off-road bike races in the winter and said he might dust off his triathlon skills or try a marathon.
"My friends shouldn't worry," Armstrong said. "I'll figure it out."
Armstrong's son Luke and twin daughters, Isabelle and Grace, accompanied him to the top step of the podium Sunday, making a soft, sentimental image of the sort French media and fans have clamored for over the years, complaining that Armstrong was an aloof champion.
Armstrong's last Tour is finished and, unlike others before him, he says he means it.
"As a matter of fact, I'm more convinced now than I've ever been," he said. "Absolutely no regrets. . . . I will live vicariously through the others."
Standing between Basso and Jan Ullrich, the third-place finisher, on Sunday, Armstrong called it "dream podium to end my career" and gestured to each man. "Maybe this is your step. I don't know. I'm out of it."
Wire services contributed to this report.