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  Thursday, 28 November, 2002, 13:44 GMT
Cycling: Lance rules
Lance Armstrong during the 2002 Tour de France
Armstrong: Unbeatable again at the Tour

Another Tour de France win in 2002 left Lance Armstrong on the brink of celebrating next year's centenary Tour by equalling Miguel Indurain's record of five in a row.

The American's latest victory in the mountains was typically clinical. A first week crash and a rare time trial defeat did not stop some getting bored with the succession of Texan triumphs.

Santiago Botero beat Armstrong in Brittany but did not have the consistency to challenge the brilliant American, despite going on to become time trial world champion at the end of the year.

In the absence of Jan Ullrich, Spain's Joseba Beloki moved up a step from his customary third.

But the real second best rider was arguably Armstrong's team-mate Roberto Heras, who combined spectacularly to reinforce Armstrong's dominance.

There were emotional French triumphs for Richard Virenque, on Mont Ventoux, and retiring King of the Mountains Laurent Jalabert, while Australian Robbie McEwen won the green points jersey.

There was even a rare British triumph with David Millar's classy win sandwiched between poor performances in the Pyrenees and Alps.

It also preceded a controversial Tour of Spain where an ill-advised one-man protest ended in disqualification for Millar.

And he did not even race in the Commonwealth Games, where Australia dominated on road and track.

The Tour of Spain produced a winner - Aitor Gonzalez - who Spain hopes will preserve Indurain's record by beating Armstrong in 2003.

But it is a sign of the relative poverty in Spain that Gonzalez and Heras will both ride for foreign teams in 2003.

Italian cycling also has a cash problem with World Cup winner Paolo Bettini's Mapei team pulling out.

Further drug-related expulsions at the Tour of Italy were too much for the world's biggest team, whose own Stefano Garzelli was one of two former winners to be kicked out before Paolo Savoldelli's unexpected win.

The other, Gilberto Simoni, blamed a dentist for his positive test while in his separate incident Ullrich was another victim of the sport's strict testing, as well as nightclubs and amphetamines.

Yet substances found when the wife of Lithuanian Tour podium star Raimondas Rumsas was arrested did hint at performance enhancement, and one wonders if this war against doping can be won.

But the year ended on a brighter note.

Italian cycling, worried by sponsors' withdrawals, united in an almost unprecedented fashion to take Mario Cipollini to the world championship, despite his mid-season "retirement" when he did not get a Tour de France invite.

Let us hope they get him along to the Tour's centenary celebrations in 2003.

At this moment the race and the sport needs a character as colourful as the flamboyant Italian.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC Sport's Colin Maitland:
"Armstong was the lone star of the Tour"
Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong
"I devote my life to winning"
In-depth look back at a wonderful year of sport

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Sport in mourning

Funny Old Year

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