- The Washington Times - Monday, July 30, 2001

PARIS On this day of little suspense, there was one bit of drama at the Tour de France.
The Texas flag Lance Armstrong was waving got caught in his bike chain, momentarily putting a victory lap in doubt. Armstrong grinned as he awaited help, then obliged the cheering crowd along the Champs-Elysees.
It was about the only thing that went wrong for Armstrong over the Tour's three weeks.
Armstrong won the Tour de France yesterday with a dominating performance, becoming the first American ever to capture the world's toughest cycling race three straight times.
"It's the best feeling of the last three," Armstrong said in faltering French. "As always, I am happy to finally arrive, to finally finish the Tour. It's a special feeling."
The man from Austin, Texas, was lost in the main pack as he crossed the finish line, but Armstrong already had shown he's in a class of his own by surviving life-threatening cancer and by winning cycling's premier event in a style that awed fans and opponents.
Armstrong crushed a field that was in strong form and included top rival Jan Ullrich. Only a terrible accident could have kept him from the winner's stand because the lead almost 7 minutes entering yesterday's final stage he built in the mountains a week earlier was so great.
"He's untouchable, it's true," said 43-year-old Dominique Maquet, who came to Paris from the Ardennes region near Belgium to watch the finish under a scorching July sun. "Some French people might be jealous, because he's so good. But he won because he's all powerful."
Many French fans, who favor their own cycling heroes and find Armstrong somewhat distant, agreed.
"Armstrong was magnificent," said 25-year-old Arnaud Blais of Paris. "It would have been nice for someone French to win, but they aren't strong enough."
Armstrong both began and finished his race in the mountain stages in the Alps and Pyrenees, where he reached perfection.
His most memorable triumph came in the climb to L'Alpe d'Huez, where he bluffed Ullrich and others by grimacing in apparent pain for the TV cameras. With his fellow riders thinking he was in trouble, he caught Ullrich, took a long, hard look, then pulled ahead at stunning speed. He finished 1:59 ahead of the German and set the tone for the entire race.
After cementing his lead in the Pyrenees, gaining the coveted yellow jersey at the top of Pla d'Adet, he further tightened his grip in the flat stretches by winning the last individual time-trial.
Ullrich, who was riding in his best form since he won the Tour in 1997, was left trailing by 6 minutes, 44 seconds, a deficit that he carried with him to the finish line.
Like Armstrong, U.S. cyclist Greg LeMond has won the race three times, but with a two-year gap between his first and second titles.
The Tour record is five titles, but for now Armstrong says he isn't interested.
"I'm not chasing a record," he said on Saturday. "I never thought I would get to this point.
"It was a surprise for me even to make it back to the sport," he added, referring to his comeback from advanced testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs and brain.
Armstrong was diagnosed with the cancer in October 1996 and given a 50 percent to 60 percent chance to live when doctors found the cancer had spread to his lungs and brain. He underwent surgery and chemotherapy and completed a dramatic comeback by winning the Tour de France in 1999.
Unlike previous editions of the Tour, this one was almost free of doping scandals. Questions did arise over Armstrong's working relationship with an Italian doctor whose name has been linked to doping. He again denied he's used banned substances, and said he would review his relationship with Dr. Michele Ferrari. However, Armstrong's U.S. Postal Service team still is under investigation for use of banned substances.
In the only other incident, Spanish rider Txema Del Olmo was dropped from the race by his team after testing positive to what his squad called "abnormalities."
Czech rider Jan Svorada won yesterday's stage, the 20th of a more than 2,100-mile ride through France and Belgium.
With Ullrich in second place overall and Spaniard Joseba Beloki third, the finish was identical to last year's. It was only the second time in Tour history that the same riders have finished 1-2-3 in consecutive years.
"It was one of the funner victories I've had here," Armstrong said. "Definitely the strongest I've ever been, stronger than the previous two."
But there's more to come.
"I have a lot left," he said. "I love it. I love what I do. As long as the passion is there, I'll be around for years."

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