Tour de France: Sad end for Armstrong who rides into sunset as 'tourist on a bike'

The seven-times winner has struggled on his final Tour but that will not diminish his cycling legacy, says Alasdair Fotheringham

Half an hour before Lance Armstrong and eight other breakaway riders reached the stage finish at Pau on Tuesday, the American eased back to his team car. When his manager asked him how he was feeling, Armstrong simply replied, "I'm tired". The 38-year-old Texan did not need to say anything more to admit that he would not be able to battle for the stage win – he finished sixth – just as for two long weeks he has not been able to compete for any of the other mountain stages, or indeed for a final Tour de France win.

For a rider as innately – some might say unhealthily – ambitious as Armstrong, this year's Tour must have been a huge disappointment. Expectations were high, justifiably so. He was third last year but going into the race this time the American's form looked stronger and in his RadioShack team there was no division of loyalties like that between himself and his then team-mate Alberto Contador in 2009. He rode brilliantly in the first week in this Tour and the prospect of him finishing his last race in yellow, even at his age, seemed a real possibility.

But two crashes in a single Alpine stage and the injuries he suffered as a result poleaxed Armstrong. When he crossed the line at the end of the eighth stage in Morzine-Avoriaz nearly 12 minutes down, the first thing he told reporters was "my Tour is over".

With those four words the myth of "Armstrong the invincible" went up in smoke: the semi-official Tour newspaper L'Equipe, that once described Armstrong as "an all-conquering being from another planet", scathingly said he was a "tourist on a bike".

Since the Alps, the American has barely been a factor in the race, with Tuesday's break the exception that proved the rule. There were high hopes that he would be back in the action for yesterday's stage up the Col du Tourmalet: it didn't happen.

Two days before Paris, with his chances of a final stage win virtually zero, Armstrong's Tour de France record can be summed up. Seven overall victories and 24 stage wins add up to a domination of the event without precedent and make him an athlete who cannot fail to be a reference point for all sport.

Aggressive, charismatic, articulate and hugely talented, Armstrong has been impossible to ignore. But long-term, the benefits of his seven-year reign have been uneven.

On the plus side, Armstrong has pioneered everything from revolutionary new pedalling styles – the so-called "windmill", pedalling low gears at high speeds – to detailed reconnaissance of every mountain stage, now de rigueur for every major contender.

But unlike when America's first Tour winner Greg LeMond was regularly finishing first in Paris at the end of the 1980s and demanding vast salaries in return for himself and his team-mates, there has been no corresponding hike in wages across the board. It also goes without saying that the doping allegations that have dogged Armstrong have done cycling no favours, though he has always stenuously denied the allegations.

Commercially, the consequences are equally mixed, although the American's biggest impact unsurprisingly, has been in the United States. But only briefly. "If anybody was going to make cycling mainstream in America, it would have been Lance," says Andy Hood, the European correspondent of VeloNews, the US's best-selling magazine on the sport. "But that didn't happen. As soon as he [first] retired [in 2005], coverage in the States sank back to pre-1999 levels. It was all about Lance and the media interest in Lance was always partly because of his cancer backstory."

But the effect of his run of wins from 1999 to 2005 can still be felt. This month there are four American teams in the race, whereas for years there was only one – Armstrong's. If his RadioShack outfit has sucked in most of the media interest, there is more than enough left over for other businesses to want to be in on the act.

Curiously, his popularity has rocketed, even in France where he was once voted the country's least favourite athlete, since he stopped winning the Tour. Both last year and this year he has been the rider to receive the most fan mail on the Tour.

Part of this can be put down to Armstrong's impressively organised publicity machine for his Livestrong foundation, created to promote the fight against cancer, during the Tour. Around four dozen activists start their day at the Tour selling Livestrong bracelets, and later stencil what they call "words of hope" – short, upbeat messages about cancer and Armstrong – on the stage route. The money raised goes to local cancer charities, but at the same time the publicity raises Armstrong's profile and strengthens his association with the race.

The question of his long-term reputation is unlikely to be settled for some time, if only because the legal battles over the latest series of doping allegations made by former team-mate Floyd Landis are just starting to hot up. The latest instalment was the announcement that another former US Postal rider, Tyler Hamilton, had been subpoenaed by a federal investigation. Armstrong has never tested positive for banned substances and has dismissed the Landis allegations.

Ultimately, was Armstrong right to come back to the sport when, as Britain's Chris Boardman once said, he had nothing left to prove? With hindsight, as he heads towards Paris as just another rider, it is easy – too easy – to write off his return as unnecessary. But it was never that simple.

Had Armstrong not crashed in the Alps, this year's Tour could have been a final spectacular episode from an athlete who has – for better or for worse – gone beyond his sport in a way no cyclist ever did before. And if bad luck and accidents have meant Armstrong has over-reached himself this year, the American's sporting legacy – whatever it finally is – will not be changed by that. He has done too much in cycling, and sport, already.

Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
News
people
News
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
Arts and Entertainment
The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit director Peter Jackson with his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
film
News
people
News
Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright has won The Apprentice 2014
tvThe Apprentice 2014 final
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chessington

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Service Desk Analyst - Chessington, Surrey...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Support Analyst / Helpdesk Support Analyst

£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is the UK's leading ...

The Jenrick Group: Finance Manager/Management Accountant

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: The Jenrick Group: Finance Manager/Manag...

Recruitment Genius: Manufacturing Manager

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a rare opportunity for ...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'