By Caroline Wyatt
BBC News, Paris
From early in the morning, the Champs Elysees was lined with fans waiting to cheer their hero on to victory, standing patiently despite the rain.
For this one day, Paris looked like an outpost of cyclist Lance Armstrong's Lone Star State, with the Texan and US flags at every turn - cowboy hats and the star-spangled banner as far as the eye could see.
Armstrong's seventh victory prompted emotional scenes in Paris
Some who came to watch were fellow cancer survivors, in Paris to pay tribute to a man they say has been an inspiration to them.
Others were simply fans - admirers of a man whose single-minded will to win has made him a cycling legend. And the fans went wild as Lance Armstrong coasted to his record seventh Tour victory and pedalled into sporting history.
"He really embodies the American dream - his difficult background, the way he overcame cancer, his total determination to win," said one fan who came from Austin, Texas to support the town's greatest champion.
Jerry Geller and his wife also travelled from the US. He too survived cancer, and says Lance Armstrong's example taught him how to fight and how to live life to the full.
Even the sometimes sceptical French have been won over - not least by the news of the American's impending retirement.
"We do like Lance, and all that he's done for the Tour," said sisters Celine and Delphine, as they huddled beneath a Tour umbrella to watch the final stages of the race.
"But it will be nice next year to see someone else win, as it's all been about Lance every year."
Wearing the leader's yellow jersey, Armstrong dominated the Tour throughout in a race he has made his own with the single-minded will to win gained from beating cancer.
Victory was never in any doubt despite a moment of drama when, as the riders entered Paris, a team-mate took a tumble on the slippery road.
Lance Armstrong only just avoided him as he cycled past and onto the final triumphant stretch - cycling with a glass of champagne in hand, enjoying a leisurely ride to victory, and holding up the number seven to symbolise his final win.
US cycling fans travelled to Paris and mingled with the locals
Unusually, race organisers stopped the clock as the riders entered Paris, because of concern over dangerous road conditions after heavy rain and fog.
They awarded Armstrong his unparalleled victory with 10 miles still to go.
Then, once again, the US national anthem rang out across the Champs Elysees and the sun came out as Armstrong coaxed his three young children to stand with him on the winner's podium, to be a part of this final highlight to mark the end of a spectacular career.
Smiling at him from the sidelines was his girlfriend, rock star Sheryl Crow, watching this last moment of the Texan's cycling glory.
Time for change
He then addressed the crowd, an honour never before offered to any Tour de France winner.
After praising his team and his competitors, Armstrong had some harsh words for those who had suggested that his seven consecutive wins were not the result of hard work, training and determination but of doping.
It has been a charge the Texan has always angrily denied, testing negative for banned substances every time throughout his career.
"The last thing I'll say for people who don't believe in cycling, the cynics and the sceptics: I'm sorry for you, I'm sorry you can't dream big, I'm sorry you don't believe in miracles," he said from the podium.
"This is one hell of a race, a great sporting event and you should believe. You should believe in these athletes and you should believe in these people.
"I'm a fan of the Tour de France for as long as I live and there are no secrets - this is a sporting event and hard work wins it, so Vive le Tour forever!"
Armstrong says his priority now is to spend time with his children and do more work with his cancer foundation, though some have suggested a career in politics lies ahead.
Even the French - often ambivalent about the Texan's domination of their race - have been paying homage to a man whose name has become synonymous with one of the toughest tests of mental and physical endurance in sport, the true master of the gruelling 2,200 miles across some of France's toughest terrain.
The champion waved to the crowds before saying a final goodbye
Often the main complaint in France was that Lance Armstrong made it look too easy, too effortless as he sailed up the steepest mountain passes.
And it is true that next year's race will look and feel very different without the all-conquering Texan to dominate it.
But many here will be looking forward to the Tour de France 2006, not least Armstrong's main rivals Jan Ullrich, Ivan Basso, and Alexandre Vinokourov.
They may get their chance on the winner's podium now that the American is finally out of the race.