A Well-Earned Celebration

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With all but one of the jersey competitions already decided, Stage 20 proceeded as the customary ceremonial procession to Paris this afternoon. The U.S. Postal Service led Lance Armstrong and rest of the peloton onto the Champs Élysées, and then turned the sprinters loose to fight for the honor of winning the final stage.

Besides the opportunity to win the most prestigious sprint in cycling, the final rush to the line this afternoon also carried with it the chance to change the overall winner of the sprinters’ green jersey competition. While Armstrong soaked in the satisfaction of having won his sixth Tour de France, Robbie McEwen, Thor Hushovd, Erik Zabel, and Stuart O’Grady still had business to attend to. In the end, young Tom Boonen won his second stage of the 2004 Tour and McEwen’s fourth place finish was enough to give him the second green jersey of his career.

Even though the final winners of the yellow, polka dot, and green jerseys were all experienced veterans, the 2004 Tour de France saw the emergence of a new crop of riders. At 26 years old, Ivan Basso finished third overall. Twenty-five-year-old Thomas Voeckler wore the yellow jersey for 10 days. The winners of the first and last days of the Tour were both 23 years old, and Filippo Pozzato won Stage 7 at just 22 years old. The winds of change are in the air.

Lance Armstrong is accustomed to fighting against the wind, and he’ll continue to battle for the yellow jersey as long as he’s enjoying the work and believes he has the power to win it. His future at the Tour de France is completely up to him, but there’s no race he loves more. A few weeks from now we’ll sit down and talk about goals for next year, and if he decides to continue focusing on the Tour de France, he’ll be just as difficult to beat in 2005.

Tonight, however, we’re not going to talk about next year or anything beyond it. Instead, we’re going to celebrate not only a victory at the Tour de France, not even a record six years in the making, but an achievement that started fourteen years ago. While he was standing on the podium of the Settimana Ciclista Bergamasca in 1990, I told a 19-year-old Lance Armstrong that he would someday win the Tour de France. Through the ups and downs that followed, including a life and death battle with cancer, Lance’s potential to win the Tour never diminished.

Surviving cancer gave Lance a second chance at life, and he committed himself to making the most of every day. He chose to become the best cyclist he can be out of respect for the second chance he was given, and the desire to use his achievements to provide hope to everyone affected by cancer. Lance Armstrong lives to prove all things are possible if you’re willing to do the work required and fight with all your heart. It’s a message originally targeted at the cancer community, but it’s undeniably applicable to everyone.