Cycling Cycling

Entente cordiale

Armstrong acts for Franco-American relations

Posted: Sunday July 27, 2003 12:50 PM

PARIS (Reuters) - Lance Armstrong's fifth Tour victory was the hardest by far but also the sweetest in terms of his popularity on the roads of France.

The Texan, a personal friend of U.S. President George W. Bush, had not exactly been France's most-loved athlete in recent years and was booed on the climb to the Mount Ventoux last year.

But despite Franco-American tensions over the Iraq war, there was no animosity whatsoever from the crowds this year and fans seemed won over by Armstrong's struggling and suffering in this year's race.

The American, who made himself available to sign autographs and always spoke a few words on French television at the end of stages, said he had felt the difference.

"There were a lot of American flags this year. They scream and it's a French person -- Allez Lance!

"It's a little bit strange, but it happened many times," he said.

"There were lots of Americans on the side of the road and you can hear them too. I can't complain on what kind of support it is, it's much appreciated."

Armstrong, who has a bodyguard during the Tour, said that he was glad to be able to help improve the peculiar relationship between the two countries.

"In the times of Franco-American tension, it's great that Americans come to this country and stand on the side of the road, go to hotels and restaurants, drink their wine, visit and support the country because of the great riders," he said.

Armstrong had been awarded the infamous lemon prize as the most unpleasant rider in the bunch by Tour photographers two years ago.

This time, he received the orange prize as the nicest rider to work with, a spectacular change in his perception by both fans and the French media.

Related information
2003 Tour de France Index
Armstrong claims record-tying fifth Tour win
Armstrong eyes unprecedented sixth Tour win
Armstrong equals Tour record in unique fashion
Visit Video Plus for the latest audio and video

Copyright 2003 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.