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.

Sport
Seth Rollins cashes in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
WWERollins win the WWE World Heavyweight title in one of the greatest WrestleMania's ever seen
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
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

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor