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Only human

Armstrong equals Tour record in unique fashion

Posted: Sunday July 27, 2003 12:50 PM
Updated: Sunday July 27, 2003 1:40 PM
  Lance Armstrong Lance Armstrong: "It's a dream, really a dream." AP

PARIS (Reuters) -- Lance Armstrong's fifth Tour de France victory may not be a first but it will still stand out as an unprecedented sporting achievement.

Four other riders have achieved the same feat as Armstrong but he is the only cancer survivor to do so.

When the American returned in 1999 to win his first Tour, his spectacular recovery from the disease stole the headlines.

Winning just one Tour, regardless of one's medical past, is already one of sport's most outstanding efforts.

Five years later, the 31-year-old Texan has become more than just an example and an inspiration for people affected by cancer.

He is simply one of the truly great cyclists of all times.

Now on a par with Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain, the American can still claim a unique place in the history of the sport -- because he can win a sixth Tour.

If he showed signs of weakness in three weeks of the fastest Tour de France ever, he also proved he still had enough in him to do it again.

Previous five-times champions all said the effort, the discipline and sacrifice of their private lives finally took their toll, making it too hard to win a sixth time.

But Armstrong made it back from a place none of the other four have been to and has made suffering a way of life.

In terms of global popularity, his victory on the Champs-Elysees on Sunday was also far more meaningful than past triumphs -- it was the Tour of the centenary and Armstrong is American.

Simply human

Greg LeMond showed the way by winning three Tours between 1986 and 1990.

But in 15 years, globalization has affected the world of sport and for an American to dominate a sport deeply rooted in continental European culture is a clear sign that the Tour is gradually becoming universal.

The simple fact that Armstrong is American could ironically make the sport more popular for the young generation of European sports fans whose idols are Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods, superstars in sports seldom shown on television in continental Europe.

Like Merckx, and like Hinault, Armstrong has earned more than just respect and prize money with his last victory.

He also, at long last, won the hearts of the crowds on the roadside.

French fans have always hated the great riders of the Tour, preferring Raymond Poulidor to Anquetil, Bernard Thevenet or Luis Ocana to Merckx, LeMond to Indurain.

They like to see champions suffer and struggle because they want to be able to identify with them.

In 1999, his extraordinary recovery from cancer failed to make the French sympathetic to Armstrong mainly because his victory came a year after the doping scandal that nearly ruined the image of the Tour.

But this year, Armstrong was tested for the first time by his rivals, by sickness, by personal problems, by heat.

And the superhero of the past four years showed he was simply human.


 
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