Cycling: Armstrong just one step from seventh heaven

Stage win puts the gloss on Texan's final triumphant entry into Paris

The Texan started slowly on a course littered with technical difficulties that included a third category climb 15.5km from the finish. He was an unexpected seven seconds behind the overall runner-up, the Italian Ivan Basso, at the first intermediate checkpoint, and the time lag briefly fuelled speculation that cracks could finally be appearing in the 33-year-old's armour.

But as the Discovery Channel rider warmed to his task, the early delay proved to be a mere glitch en route to the 22nd stage win of his career. Halfway along the course, Armstrong had an advantage of 32 seconds over Ullrich, while Basso, after his powerful start, had cracked almost completely.

The American had checked the entire course twice in the morning, once on his bike and once in the team car and the attention to detail paid off in full. Negotiating the descents - dangerously sticky as tarmac melted in warm weather - with care but accelerating remorselessly on each of the lengthy technical sections, the Texan maintained his advantage before easing slightly at the finish. Taking no risks, he eventually crossed the line displaying his usual mirthless grin of maximum effort for one final time in his career.

For Armstrong, rather like this seventh Tour itself, victory was no more than the icing on the cake of his career. Twelve months ago he had already become the first rider in history to take the Tour six times, but his contract with Discovery Channel, his new team sponsor in 2005, specified he race one last Tour. On 18 April he announced he would retire after this year's event, then the Armstrong template - as his meticulous, almost manic preparation programme is known - swung into action.

He has been dominant throughout this year's Tour, but had failed, however, to take an individual stage in any event this season prior to yesterday's victory. With his children waiting for him at the finish line, Armstrong reflected that: "It's a dream come true being able to win in front of them".

"Winning [this stage] was not essential, but it was essential for me to prove why I deserved to have the yellow jersey."

If Armstrong was as untouchable yesterday as he has been throughout his career, Ullrich was able, thanks to his consistent if unspectacular performance in the final time trial, to secure a major consolation prize - third overall in Paris. The German's rival for the podium, the Dane Mickael Rasmussen, had an abysmal ride.

The Rabobank rider was forced to change his bike no fewer than three times because of mechanical problems, and if that was not enough, took two tumbles on the technical course. With his morale in tatters, Rasmussen finished 77th on the stage, sliding to sixth overall, with Ullrich benefiting the most.

All that remains for Armstrong today is a triumphant ride into Paris, listening to the American national anthem on the Champs Elysées as he dons his last yellow jersey, and then celebrations in the Ritz.

How hemaintains the motivation necessary to succeed in one of sport's most gruelling events remains a mystery. Speaking after the stage win yesterday he said he would leave the race with no regrets. "I know my time is up and I'm more convinced now than I have ever been that it was time to leave," he said. "There was no pressure for this victory, the only pressure was something within myself and wanting to go out on top."

Asked if he would win in 2006 had he not decided to retire, he said: "It would not be fair to say. My advantage over Basso is 4 mins 40 secs. That's a good time cushion, but at 34 I might take a big step down and somebody might take a big step up." There can be no doubt that Armstrong finishes his career as he wanted to, leaving on a high and with a record in cycling's blue riband event that will prove hard, if not impossible, to match.

"My condition is probably the best it could have been." he said - and recent data shows that Armstrong in fact was stronger physically this year than he was in 1999.

"Everybody's looking for the next Lance, but there won't be another one like him in a century," his loyal friend and team-mate, George Hincapie predicted recently. Whatever the case, Armstrong is quitting as he wanted - ahead of the game and with no doubts as to his crushing superiority.

Suggested Topics
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Sport
world cup 2014A history of the third-place play-offs
News
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
The Mexico chief finally lets rip as his emotions get the better of him
world cup 2014
Voices
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
arts + entsReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice