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Last Updated: Monday, 25 July, 2005, 06:13 GMT 07:13 UK
Au revoir Lance
By Stuart Hughes
On the Champs-Elysees, Paris

Fans line the streets in Paris to salute Lance Armstrong
For one day only, the French capital was transformed into an annex of the Lone Star state.

A few pedal strokes from the Arc de Triomphe, an army of American cycling fans - decked in the stars and stripes and Texan flags - had set up camp, waiting to cheer on Lance Armstrong as he rode home to his seventh and final Tour victory.

For them, Armstrong's achievements following his recovery from cancer have transformed him into part sporting icon, part saint.

"Lance embodies what it means to be an American," explained Tim Walsh from Chicago.

"He went through adversity and came back better, stronger and faster than anyone else in the world.

"He's a remarkable human being."

A contingent of supporters had travelled all the way from Armstrong's hometown of Austin to witness their hero's swansong.

With their ten-gallon hats and hearty chants of "Go Lance!" the Texans were hard to miss.

"When we first came here we thought the French hated Americans but it's not true," said Amanda Naughton.

"We're loud but they still like us and everywhere we go we make new friends."

Further down the Champs-Elysees, Jerry Kelly from Birmingham, Alabama, was making his fifth pilgrimage to the Tour.

Armstrong even seems to have finally won the battle for the respect, if not the affection, of France

Like Armstrong, he overcame testicular cancer after being diagnosed five years ago.

"Lance's story is one of inspiration and hope," said Mr Kelly.

"He gives me the inspiration to share my story with people who are newly diagnosed with cancer and to live life to the fullest - to live strong."

Only one cyclist can wear the legendary yellow jersey, but as the 155 riders remaining in the 2005 Tour de France circled the centre of Paris, counting down the kilometres towards the finish line, the city was a sea of maillots jaunes.

Thousands of canary-clad cycling fans from dozens of countries packed the boulevards.

Even the official waterproof ponchos protecting spectators from the Paris drizzle came in the distinctive bright yellow colour, as the rain did its best to dampen Armstrong's victory parade.

Prince Albert II of Monaco is among the fans cheering on Armstrong
Prince Albert II of Monaco gives Armstrong a royal send-off in Paris

Three of his Discovery team-mates slipped and crashed while negotiating a bend shortly before they crossed the River Seine.

Because of the treacherous conditions, race organisers declared Armstrong the winner as he and the main pack entered central Paris, with eight circuits of the Champs-Elysees still to go.

As he bows out of the race he has dominated for seven years, Armstrong even seems to have finally won the battle for the respect, if not the affection, of France.

Armstrong has endured a love-hate relationship with the French public and press, which has made repeated unsubstantiated doping allegations.

"For the first few years French people didn't really warm to Lance Armstrong," said Parisian Jean-Christophe Barron.

"Now, though, they love him because he's a great champion and like everyone, the French love a champion."

As the Star Spangled Banner rang out over the Champs-Elysees for a seventh consecutive year, a banner held aloft by one fan summed up the feelings of many.

"Merci France. Merci Lance," it said.

Report: Armstrong wins seventh Tour



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