I'll admit that I teared up today as Lance took the top step of the podium today in Paris, the Arc de Triomphe in the background. I'm also certain I'm not the only one who did.
It was a pretty uneventful day in the early miles - the peloton rode at a leisurely pace (what the guys call "noodling"), Lance often riding at the front. Different guys would come up to congratulate him and have a chat, and then he'd drop back to ride solo through the team cars to talk to them one by one. And yes, he sipped a bit of champagne with his fellow Discovery Channel teammates.
His bike was new, full of iconography representing his life and his cycling career, and his teammates all wore new Discovery Channel jerseys with a yellow right shoulder. Lance's helmet also had a big yellow star on the front, and yellow straps. Nothing like the gold embellishments he sported last year, but a nice change nonetheless.
Lance's last day in the Tour (photos from here)
It was raining, as expected, and there were a few small crashes. No one got so hurt that they couldn't continue, though three of Lance's teammates did fall. Lance, close behind them, had to put his foot down on the pavement and skid to a stop (Fred Flintstone-style) to avoid going down with them.
In the end, the race officials wisely neutralized the final time because the cobbled Champs-Élysées, when wet, can be disastrous - especially on the hairpins. So the first time the peloton crossed what would be the eventual finish line, the clock stopped. After the eight laps of the Champs-Élysées, however, perennial breakaway specialist Alexandre Vinokourov (who has already confirmed he'll be leaving his T-Mobile squad next year, and will be a hot pickup for a new team) won the stage - a coveted win in the life of a Tour rider. There ended up being a small time bonus for Vino, as well, which - at the moment - has him in 5th overall, leapfrogging over American Levi Leipheimer. (I say "at the moment," because I'm not sure if Levi's team will protest the result, since the commentators were saying that the officials had said there would be no time bonuses.)
On the podium, Lance's three kids - all wearing yellow - joined him (Luke somewhat reluctantly, no doubt a little camera shy), and we heard the Star Spangled Banner on the Champs-Élysées for what is likely to be the last time for a long time.
Lance with his kids on the podium - the lion and flowers nearly as big as the twins
And yet there was one more first - race officials handed Lance a microphone, and he became the first Tour winner to be able to say a few words from the podium. Here's an excerpt of what he said:
"It's a dream podium I'm standing on here," Armstrong said. "Jan is a special person and a special rival." "Ivan, well you are just tough to race against. You're too much of a friend but maybe you're the future of the race for the years to come." Turning to both, Armstrong added: "So, Ivan: next year, this is your step; or Jan: this might be your step next year, I don't know, but I'm outta here, so..."
After briefly criticizing the doubters who claim that his exploits have been achieved through illicit means - he has faced accusations of doping in the past - Armstrong had only one thing to say: "Vive le Tour. Forever."
Indeed. Merci beaucoup, Lance, for seven amazing years.