- The Washington Times - Monday, July 24, 2000

PARIS Lance Armstrong raised a glass of champagne even before he crossed the finish line, celebrating a second straight Tour de France win that was even sweeter this time around.

Then, on the victory podium, Armstrong hoisted his infant son above his head. Tears welled in the eyes of the 28-year-old Texan, who just three years ago was fighting for his life against cancer that had spread to his lungs and brain.

"It was a hard Tour de France and, like last year, I'm glad it's finished and I can see more of these guys," he said yesterday as he stood with his wife Kristin and 9-month-old son Luke, who was dressed in yellow just like his dad.

Because of his insurmountable lead in the final stage of the Tour de France, riders joked and clowned with Armstrong as they coasted past the famous sites of Paris and throngs of spectators.

Shortly after the cyclists took off from the Eiffel Tower, Armstrong donned a long-haired wig. As he passed the Louvre Museum, he grabbed a pocket camera and took snapshots of the flag-waving Americans shooting pictures of him.

He even was passed a glass of local bubbly and made a toast as he pedaled, even though he'd earlier declared he wasn't "a champagne kind of guy."

"This one's even more special than last year, partly because of this little guy," Armstrong said afterward, cradling the son who was born three months after his first Tour victory.

Armstrong won praise from his closest challengers, particularly Germany's top rider Jan Ullrich, who had questioned whether Armstrong really was the best rider in 1999, when Ullrich didn't compete.

"Armstrong is a worthy champion. He was the strongest man, and he met our every attack. He earned his victory," said Ullrich, who won the Tour in 1997 but has finished second every year since.

Entertainers Robin Williams and Sean Penn were just a few of the thousands of Americans who lined the Champs-Elysees where the 2,250-mile race concluded with a dozen sharp-turned circuits in front of the Arc de Triomphe.

The Americans on the Champs were easy to spot: Many wore U.S. flags like capes, beach towels or bandanas, and others had Armstrong's name painted up and down their arms. Even some non-Americans quietly cheered on Armstrong along with their own countrymen.

Stefano Zanini of Italy won the final mad sprint finish, and declared, "I'm too happy."

The festive mood was momentarily jarred when Jeroen Blijlevens of the Netherlands violently hit American rider Bobby Julich just after crossing the finish line. Blijlevens, who finished 124th in the overall standings, was kicked out of this year's Tour for a "particularly serious attack," according to a statement from the International Cycling Union. It wasn't immediately clear what provoked the altercation.

Before the race, Armstrong was already looking ahead to September's Olympics in Sydney, and speculating openly about his prospects of clinching a first gold medal in the time trial competition. He won all three time trials in last year's Tour as well as a time trial Friday, his first stage victory in this year's Tour.

"It's special to ride for your country," he said in an interview aboard a special Orient Express train that carried all 128 riders into Paris yesterday.

"Winning gold is a big objective," he said, noting that unlike last year, he was coming away from the Tour in strong mental shape. "I had no motivation to ride again that year, but today I feel like I'm ready to go for it."

His only scheduled appearance after the race was to attend a benefit for cancer research, a cause he's championed since being diagnosed in 1996 with advanced testicular cancer. Given less than a 40 percent chance of survival, he underwent brain surgery and chemotherapy and had a testicle removed.

"I take inspiration from these people," Armstrong said after meeting with cancer victims. "It's almost an unfair advantage that I get to talk to these people every day."

Armstrong resumed professional competition in 1998 but skipped that year's Tour, which nearly fell apart over revelations that many top cyclists were using banned performance-enhancing drugs.

Armstrong himself was accused of using illegal drugs in 1999, an allegation traced to his use of a steroid-based skin cream for saddle sores. No such allegations surfaced this year, a factor Armstrong credited with making the competition less stressful even though it was physically more demanding, with four grueling stages through the Alps and Pyrenees.

As 2000 winner, Armstrong takes away $315,000, plus $7,200 for his stage win, and a range of bonuses for racking up points in other aspects of the Tour.

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