Incredible Armstrong on top of the world

Tour de France: Texan's second successive victory confirms his status as cycling's outstanding competitor
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The Independent Online

Lance Armstrong celebrated his second Tour de France triumph with his nine-month-old son by his side on the podium and said the boy had helped inspire his win.

Lance Armstrong celebrated his second Tour de France triumph with his nine-month-old son by his side on the podium and said the boy had helped inspire his win.

The presence of young Luke seemed a perfect symbol of Armstrong's renaissance after the cancer which almost claimed the Texan's life four years ago. "It's very special," he said. "This little guy gave me a lot of motivation. It was a hard Tour de France."

Armstrong's second triumph confirmed that the race, which since its creation in 1903 had become a monument of Gallic tradition, has grown ever more international.

The king of the mountains jersey returned to Colombia for the first time in 13 years thanks to Santiago Botero. An Italian, Stefano Zanini, won the last stage on the Champs Elysées and a German, Erik Zabel, claimed his fifth points standings green jersey.

But the American's second victory was also, if less emotional, far more credible than the first last year, since the world's best riders in long stage races were present.

The Texan can now rightly claim to be the best rider in the world - and by far, since he left German Jan Ullrich, the 1997 Tour champion, trailing by over six minutes after three weeks and 3,662 kilometres of racing. Young Basque Joseba Beloki was third, 10minutes and four seconds behind Armstrong.

The American also forced Italian Marco Pantani, the 1998 winner, to fight to his limits. The Italian retired ill as the Tour was entering its third week after winning two of its most prestigious stages, at Mont Ventoux and in the Alpine resort of Courchevel.

In spite of his victory, Armstrong cannot afford to rest on his laurels. Ullrich, second for the third time, pledged to change his preparation next season to avoid the weight problems which have hampered his training in recent years.

Even the German's Telekom team director Walter Godefroot confessed he was losing patience over the carefree approach of his rider, who is probably as talented as Armstrong but has not yet discovered the virtues of hard work.

Ullrich has not been through the same hard times as Armstrong, who survived a near-fatal cancer to become a Tour winner, or Pantani, who considered retiring last season after failing a blood test in the Giro.

Pantani's return to the Tour was a spectacular one. The Italian was obviously too far off form to be a real contender for overall victory but he had the merit of attacking Armstrong relentlessly, hoping to prove that the American was not invincible.

Pantani succeeded in the gruelling Alpine stage from Courchevel to Morzine when, for the first time in two years, the US Postal rider showed real signs of weakness.

With the right training "Il Pirata" could do more than just sting the double Tour champion next season. "I don't know if the Pantani of 1998 is back but he's not far away," the Italian said.

As a result, the 2001 Tour promises to be a hard-fought battle if the three men with a reasonable chance of winning it feature at their best. Switzerland's Alex Zuelle, the 1995 and 1999 runner-up, could also be back at a decent level next year, which was not the case this time.

Prospects such as Briton David Millar, winner of the first stage, and Beloki could come of age within 12 months.

The other sign of hope was the absence of a positive dope test, as such, in the race this year. Three riders were sent home before the start of the first stage for failing blood tests. But the decision by Tour organisers to keep the urine samples of riders until a new test to detect the banned drug EPO is officially approved, apparently acted as a deterrent.

It could also be a time-bomb, for when the new test receives the go-ahead the cycling world will know at last whether old habits die hard. A positive test would be a major setback for a sport which came close to collapse because of drugs.

And it could be an ominous sign that some of the leading actors in this Tour - Pantani, Frenchman Richard Virenque, winner of the Morzine stage, Botero, Spaniard Javier Otxoa, winner of a classic stage in the Pyrenees, the Frenchman Christophe Moreau and the Dutchman Erik Dekker, winner of three stages this year - have all had their problems with doping and dope tests.


FINAL LEADING OVERALL STANDINGS (after 21 stages3,662.5km, 2,276 miles):

1 Lance Armstrong (US) US Postal - 92hr 33min 8 sec 2 Jan Ullrich (Ger) Deutsche Telekom - 6min 2sec behind 3 Joseba Beloki (Sp) Festina +10:04 4 C Moreau (Fr) Festina +10:34 5 R Heras (Sp) Kelme +11:50 6 R Virenque (Fr) Polti +13:26 7 S Botero (Col) Kelme +14:18 8 F Escartin (Sp) Kelme +17:21 9 F Mancebo (Sp) Banesto +18:01 10 D Nardello (It) Mapei +18:25 11 M Beltran (Sp) Mapei +21:11 12 P Hervé (Fr) Polti +23:13 13 J Otxoa (Sp) Kelme +25:00 14 F Garcia Casas (Sp) Festina +32:04 15 A Vinokourov (Kaz) Deutsche Telekom +32:26 16 R Conti (It) Vini Caldirola +34:18 17 K van de Wouwer (Bel) Lotto +34:29 18 G Trentin (It) Vini Caldirola +35:57 19 J-C Robin (Fr) Bonjour +43:12 20 G Verheyen (Bel) Lotto +46:24


1 E Zabel (Ger) Deutsche Telekom +321 2 R McEwen (Aus) Farm Frites +203 3 R Vainsteins (Lat) Vini Caldirola +184 4 E Magnien (Fr) Française des Jeux +157 5 E Dekker (Neth) Rabobank +138 6 S Zanini (It) Mapei +130 7 J Durand (Fr) Lotto +130 8 F Simon (Fr) Bonjour +122 9 S Commesso (It) Saeco +118 10 N Mattan (Bel) Cofidis +106

MOUNTAINS CLASSIFICATION (red polka dot jersey):

1 S Botero (Col) Kelme +347 2 J Otxoa (Sp) Kelme +283 3 R Virenque (Fr) Polti +267 4 P Hervé (Fr) Polti +234 5 N Mattan (Bel) Cofidis +164 6 L Armstrong (US) US Postal +162 7 F Escartin (Sp) Kelme +149 8 R Heras (Sp) Kelme +113 9 J Beloki (Sp) Festina +112 10 J M Jimenez (Sp) Banesto +110

TEAM CLASSIFICATION 1 Kelme +278hr 10min 47sec 2 Festina +13:42 3 Banesto +18:21 4 Deutsche Telekom +40:08 5 Lotto +1.11:50

20TH STAGE (254.5km, 150 miles Belfort to Troyes)

1 E Zabel (Ger) Deutsche Telekom6hr 14min 13sec 2 R McEwen (Aus) Farm Frites 3 J Blijlevens (Neth) Polti 4 R Vainsteins (Lat) Vini Caldirola 5 M van Heeswijk (Neth) Mapei 6 M Mori (It) Saeco 7 A Piziks (Lat) Memory Card 8 E Magnien (Fr) Française des Jeux 9 G Hincapie (US) US Postal 10 C Mengin (Fr) Française des Jeux 11 J Durand (Fr) Lotto 12 N Mattan (Bel) Cofidis 13 P Chanteur (Fr) AG2R 14 F Guesdon (Fr) Française des Jeux 15 F Rodriguez (US) Mapei 16 M Backstedt (Swe) Crédit Agricole 17 G Magnusson (Swe) Farm Frites 18 R Virenque (Fr) Polti 19 C Moreau (Fr) Festina 20 E Dekker (Neth) Rabobank all s/t

Selected: 93 D Millar (GB) Cofidis s/t

21ST AND FINAL STAGE (138km, 86 miles in Paris)

1 S Zanini (It) Mapei 3hr 12min 36ec 2 E Zabel (Ger) Deutsche Telekom 3 R Vainsteins (Lat) Vini Caldirola 4 F Rodriguez (US) Mapei 5 M van Heeswijk (Neth) Mapei 6 E Magnien (Fr) Française des Jeux 7 F Simon (Fr) Bonjour 8 R McEwen (Aus) Farm Frites 9 S Commesso (It) Saeco 10 A Piziks (Lat) Memory Card 11 M Backstedt (Swe) Crédit Agricole 12 O Rodrigues (Por) Banesto 13 M Zberg (Swit) Rabobank 14 S Hinault (Fr) Crédit Agricole 15 G M Fagnini (It) Deutsche Telekom 16 V Ekimov (Rus) US Postal 17 N Bo Larsen (Den) Memory Card 18 N Mattan (Bel) Cofidis 19 G Magnusson (Swe) Farm Frites 20 C Moreau (France) Festina all s/t


FIRST STAGE Poitiers (16.5km,10 miles) 1 D Millar (GB) Cofidis 19min 3sec 2 L Armstrong (US) US Postal +2sec 3 L Jalabert (Fr) ONCE +13

The British rookie David Millar claimed the yellow jersey, holding off Lance Armstrong by two seconds. Three riders were thrown out for failing the pre-race blood test.

SECOND STAGE Futuroscope to Loudon (191km,119 miles) 1 T Steels (Bel) Mapei 4hr 46min 8sec 2 S O'Grady (Aus) Crédit Agricole same time 3 E Zabel (Ger) Deutsche Telecom s/t

Tom Steels narrowly edged out Stuart O'Grady in a frantic sprint while Millar slightly increased his overall lead.

Overall: 1 D Millar 5hr 15min 9sec; 2 L Armstrong +5sec; 3 L Jalabert+15.

THIRD STAGE Loudun to Nantes (170km, 106 miles) 1 T Steels 3.37:51 2 M Wust (Ger) Festina s/t 3 E Zabel s/t

Steels claimed his second win in a row. Millar survived a fall as the pace rose for the sprint finish but kept the Maillot Jaune.

Overall: 1 D Millar 8.43:9; 2 L Armstrong +4sec; 3 L Jalabert +6.

FOURTH STAGE Nantes to St Nazaire (69km, 43 miles) 1 ONCE (Sp) 1.25:35 2 US Postal (US) +46sec 3 Deutsche Telecom (Ger) +1min 26sec

Laurent Jalabert gained the yellow jersey in the team time-trial but not without controversy as the ONCE team were given a 20-second penalty after Marcos Serrano took shelter from the wind behind the team car. Millar dropped out of contention for yellow as Cofidis struggled.

Overall: 1 L Jalabert 10.9:10; 2 D Canada (Sp) ONCE +12sec; 3 L Armstrong +24

FIVE STAGE Vannes to Vitré (198km, 123miles)

1 M Wust 4.19:5 2 E Zabel s/t 3 S Zanini (It) Mapei s/t

The German Martin Wust won a sprint finish, while a crash for Jalabert meant that Armstrong cut into his overall lead.

Overall: 1 L Jalabert 14hr 28min 25sec; 2 D Canada +12sec; 3 L Armstrong +14sec.

SIXTH STAGE Vitré to Tours (198.5km, 124 miles) 1 L Van Bon (Neth) Rabobank 4.28:6" 2 M Zberg (Swit) Rabobank s/t 3 E Magnien (Fr) Française des Jeux s/t

The Dutchman Leon Van Bon took the stage, but the big loser was Jalabert. He lost his yellow jersey to the Italian Alberto Elli, who overtook him when he was answering the call of nature.

Overall: 1 A Elli (It) Deutsche Telekom 18hr 58min 40sec; 2 F Gougot (Fr) Crédit Agricole +12sec; 3 M Wouters (Bel) Rabobank +1

SEVENTH STAGE Tours to Limoges (205.5km, 128.4miles)

1 C Agnolutto (Fr) AG2 4.11:41 2 M Wust s/t 3 E Zabel s/t

Christophe Agnolutto's 79-mile breakaway gave him the stage win - the first for a Frenchman for two years. Elli held on to his slender overall lead.

Overall: 1 A Elli 24hr 11min 32sec; 2 F Gougot +12sec; 3 M Wauters +1min 17sec

EIGHTH STAGE Limoges to Villenueve-sur-Lot (203.5km, 127.2miles) 1 E Dekker (Neth) Rabobank 4.22:14 2 X Jan (Fr) Française de Jeux s/t 3 V Garcia Acosta (Sp) Banesto s/t

Erik Dekker took this hilly stage with an aggressive 20-mile solo run. None of this affected Alberto Elli, who stayed in yellow.

Overall: 1 A Elli 28hr 39min 28sec; 2 F Gougot +12sec; 3 M Wauters +1min 17sec

NINTH STAGE Agen to Dax (181km, 113miles)

1 P Bettini (It) Mapei 4.29:6 2 G Verheyen (Bel) Lotto s/t 3 J A Vidal (Sp) Kelme s/t

Paolo Bettini captured this flat stage, edging out the Belgian Geert Verheyen after a four-man breakaway.

Overall: 1 A Elli 33hrs 8min 34sec; 2 F Gougot +12sec; 3 M Wauters +1min15sec

10TH STAGE Dax to Lourdes-Hautacam (205km, 128.1miles) 1 J Otxoa (Sp) Kelme 6.09:32 2 L Armstrong +42sec 3 J M Jiminez (Sp) Banesto +1min13sec

On the first mountain stage, rain and the difficulties of the Pyrennean climbs exploded the field, and Armstrong siezed control. The Texan evoked memories of last year's magnificent victory at Sestriere, burning off his challengers for the yellow jersey as he went in pursuit of Javier Otxoa.

Overall: 1 Armstrong 39hr 24min 30sec; 2 J Ullrich (Ger) Deutsche Telekom +4min 14sec; 3 C Moreau (Fr) Festina +5min 10sec.

11TH STAGE Bagnÿres-de-Bigorre to Revel (218.5km, 136.5miles)

1 E Dekker 5.5:47 2 S Botero (Col) Kelme same time 3 R Verbrugghe (Bel) Lotto +4min 51sec

Dekker and Santiago Botero broke away eight miles into the stage and held on comfortably. Armstrong consolidated his position at the top of the overall classification while Millar just missed out in a sprint for third place.

Overall: 1 L Armstrong 44hr 35min 22sec; 2 J Ullrich +4min 14sec; 3 C Moreau +5min 10sec

12TH STAGE Carpentras to Mount Ventoux (142.5km, 89miles)

1 M Pantani (It) Mercatone Uno 4.15:11 2 L Armstrong same time 3 J Beloki (Sp) Festina +25sec

Armstrong slugged it out with Marco Pantani on the slopes of Mont Ventoux, attacking and counter-attacking as they left the rest of the field behind. Armstrong slowed up on the line to give Pantani the stage, content with having taken more time out of Ullrich and his other main rivals, Pantani apart. Millar, caught up in a mass crash early on, lost 17 minutes.

Overall: 1 L Armstrong 48hr 50min 21sec; 2 J Ullrich +4min 55sec; 3 J Beloki +5:52

13TH STAGE Avignon to Draguignan (185.5km, 116miles)

1 V Garcia Acosta 4.03:02 2 N Jalabert (Fr) ONCE +25sec 3 P Hervé (Fr) Polti +27sec

Garcia Acosta captured the stage as Armstrong held on to his advantage over Ullrich. Millar vowed to make it to Paris despite his injuries.

Overall: 1 L Armstrong 53hr 3min 29sec; 2 J Ullrich +4min 55sec; 3 J Beloki +5:52

14TH STAGE Draguignan to Briancon (249.5km, 155miles)

1 S Botero (Col) Kelme 7.56:13 2 P Savoldelli (It) Saeco +2min 3sec 3 M Pantani +2:46

Pantani put in an heroic spurt to finish third, while Armstrong looked to be heading towards another Tour title. Stage honours went to the Colombian Santiago Botero, who also claimed the King of the Mountains jersey. An exhausted Millar called the stage: "Sado-masochism on a grand scale."

Overall: 1 Armstrong 61hr 2min 33sec; 2 J Ullrich +4min 55sec; 3 J Beloki +5:52.

15TH STAGE Briançon to Courcheval (173.5km, 108miles)

1 M Pantani 5.34:46 2 J M Jiminez +41sec 3 R Heras (Sp) Kelme +50sec

Marco Pantani worked his mountain magic to claim victory while an unconcerned Armstrong concentrated on ensuring that Ullrich did nothing to eat into his lead.

Overall: 1 L Armstrong 66hr 38min 9sec; 2 J Ullrich +7min 26sec; 3 J Beloki +7:28

16TH STAGE Courcheval to Morzine (196km, 122miles)

1 R Virenque (Fr) Polti "5:32:20" 2 J Ullrich +24sec 3 R Heras +27sec

On the last of the mountain stages, Armstrong experienced what he called "the hardest day of my life as a racer" as Richard Virenque took his first stage win for three years. His breakaway partner, Roberto Heras, fell near the finish. Ullrich took nearly two minutes out of Armstrong's lead.

Overall: 1 L Armstrong 72hr 12min 30sec; 2 Ullrich +5min 37sec; 3 Beloki +6:38.

17TH STAGE Evian-les-Bains to Lausanne (155km, 96miles)

1 E Dekker +3.24:53 2 E Zabel s/t 3 F Rodriguez (US) Mapei s/t

Pantani went home before the start with stomach problems. Armstrong easily held on to his lead while the stage victory went to Dekker - his third on this year's Tour.

Overall: 1 Armstrong 75:37min:23; 2 Ullrich +5min 37sec 3 Beloki +6min 38sec

18TH STAGE Lausanne to Friburg-en-Brisgau, 252km, 157 miles) 1 S Commesso (It) Saeco 6.8:15 2 A Vinokourov (Kaz) Deutsche Telekom s/t 3 J Durand (Fr) Lotto +1min 5sec

Armstrong rolled into Germany's Black Forest still leading easily. Salvatore Commesso won the stage with a gutsy performance after a breakaway in the last 25 miles.

Overall: 1 Armstrong 82:1:18; 2 Ullrich +5min 37sec; 3 Beloki +6:38.

19TH STAGE Friburg-en-Brisgau to Mulhouse 59km, 37miles

1 L Armstrong 1hr 5min 1sec 2 J Ullrich +25sec 3 C Moreau +2min 12sec

Lance Armstrong captured his first stage of this year's tour to cement his place in the lead. His closest rival Jan Ullrich finished in second, 25 seconds behind, while David Millar came in seventh.

Overall: 1 L Armstrong 83hr 6min 19sec; 2 J Ullrich +6min 2sec; 3 J Beloki +10:04.

20TH STAGE Belfort to Troyes, 254.5km, 150 miles

1 E Zabel (Ger) 6hr 14min 13sec 2 R McEwen (Aus) Farm Frites s/t 3 J Blijlevens (Neth) Polti s/t

Erik Zabel, the winner of the points jersey for a record fifth time, recorded his first stage win since 1997 in a close sprint finish. Zabel had recorded two second placings and three thirds before this victory.

Overall: 1 L Armstrong 83hr 6min 19sec; 2 J Ullrich +6min 2sec; 3 J Beloki +10:04.

21ST STAGE Paris circuit, 138km, 86 miles

1 S Zanini (It) Mapei 3hr 12min 36sec 2 E Zabel (Ger) Deutsche Telekom s/t 3 R Vainsteins (Lat) Vini Caldirola s/t

Stefano Zanini of Italy held off the challenge of Erik Zabel to win the final stage. Armstrong finished safely in the pack to secure his overall triumph.

Overall: 1 L Armstrong 83hr 6min 19sec; 2 J Ullrich +6min 2sec; 3 J Beloki +10:04.