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  Friday, 27 July, 2001, 16:58 GMT 17:58 UK
France versus Lance
American fans back Lance durng the Tour
American fans love their man despite the French
BBC Sport Online's Chris Russell asks why Lance Armstrong is yet to command the respect of French fans.

Lance Armstrong will deserve the admiration of the sporting world after his historic third consecutive Tour de France triumph on Sunday.

The style of victory - with two major mountain-top wins - arguably puts Armstrong above the man who won five Tours in a row, Miguel Indurain.

Armstrong's triumph is a tale of triumph over potential disaster for this cancer survivor who came back from the brink of death.

Arsmtrong rides with team
US Postal: When the team are not around...

But do not expect the Texan to become a favourite adopted son of the host nation.

Cycling fans are among the most good-natured you will meet in any sport, and the French will generally applaud anyone riding the Tour.

Hearing Armstrong's US Postal team booed by many in Dunkirk at the start of this year's race was a major shock.

Armstrong and minders
...the Armstrong minders take over

And this was not jeering as backhanded compliment, of the kind received by footballers, but genuine dislike.

Armstrong's insecurity off the bike has been there for all to see this Tour.

His beefy minders have been seen ever since the booing in Dunkirk, leading to further criticism.

But he has still been approachable and autographs have still been signed, and in an era where tennis players get stabbed it seems a fair decision to many.

There is also the precedent of Eddy Merckx and an infamous punch.

The Belgian - as unpopular in France as Armstrong when he dominated the Tour - once lost a Tour after a French fan attacked him on a climb.

Doping?

Every one of Armstrong's three Tour wins has been marred by a whiff of unproven drugs scandal.

In 1999 there were traces of legitimate cortisone used to treat saddle sores.

Last year a US Postal team helper was caught on camera disposing of medical equipment.


I believe he's an honest man, I believe he's a fair man and I believe he's an innocent man - I've never seen anything to lead me to believe otherwise
Armstrong on Ferrari
This time Armstrong has had to defend his alliance with Italian doctor Michele Ferrari, currently facing trial over doping offences.

Nothing has been proved and even the French admit that all this evidence is highly circumstantial.

Few really believe a man in his position would take risks with his health.

But in the current climate of suspicion over doping, one might have expected Armstrong to take more care to be seen to be clean.

Bad sport?

Arrogance is compulsory to win the Tour, but many believe Armstrong goes too far.

His now infamous look back at Jan Ullrich on Alpe d'Huez was interpreted as insulting.
Armstrong and Ullrich battle it out during Tour 2001
Armstrong (left) was accused of insulting Ullrich

Armstrong said he was simply studying Ullrich's condition to see whether to attack.

But he did admit to feigning poor condition in the early stages of the Alpe d'Huez stage, in a deliberate attempt to fool rivals.

In an age where every team boss has a radio link to riders and live TV in the car, is that bad sportsmanship or just playing the game?

The French media have not helped Lance's image.


Sur une autre planete (on another planet)
Sports daily L'Equipe implied artificial help in 1999

Sick of being misquoted, last year's Tour saw Armstrong conduct all interviews in English, even on French television.

He could not have insulted the French more if he had dropped his lycra shorts in front of the Arc de Triomphe.

And when he moved to Spain from his French home last winter it compounded a tactical error.

This Tour has seen Armstrong speaking in French again, and he has moved back to Nice, but he still has work to do before the French forget.

The future

The bad news for many of the French, and for his rivals, is that Armstrong intends to concentrate on the Tour for the rest of his career.

The Texan's award-winning autobiography suggests he is a stubborn man so massaging his image may not rank amongst his highest priorities.

And the French, frustrated at 16 years without a Tour win, have a reputation for resenting anyone who gatecrashes their party.

But after a long, drawn out investigation, most expect US Postal to be cleared of any wrongdoing during last year's Tour.

Maybe then, the French may still find the strength to respect - if not like this dominant champion.

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