Stage 21: Corbeil Essonnes – Paris ( Champs Elysees ) 144.5km
The Tour de France is the people's race. Wherever it goes huge crowds turn out to catch a glimpse of their heroes. On the world stage it is one of the most famous of all sporting events with the Yellow Jersey arguably the most famous of all sporting images. Ironically 90% of the general public has no real idea how the race is won yet they revel in its outcome.
Throughout its illustrious history the Tour has produced many champions that have become legends. Certain roads and mountains have acquired mythical status. Numerous individual rides and competitive confrontations are recalled with great relish each year. And now Lance Armstrong enters those pages of Tour history. Everywhere in print, on the television and on the web, experts are carving out his place in the role of honor. As interesting as all of this is, it is time that slowly determines where things fall in the big picture.
The first five-time TdF winner, Jacques Anquetil was not at all liked by his own French public during his racing years. He was ice cold, calculating, aristocratic and aloof. Towards the end of his life the public started to warm up to him. Now, over 40 years after his last TdF victory, he is held in great esteem and fondly remembered. Armstrong's legacy will also take time to mature.
For the sport the important thing is that Armstrong has written a big chapter in the Tour's history. His return from the jaws of death will forever link his fight with cancer with his determination to dominate the toughest sporting event in the world. This aspect alone makes the need for comparisons with former great Tour champions unnecessary.
Every year the road side crowds seem to get larger. If you have ever been part of that crowd you will know that they have discovered the secret to the Tour. Every single rider is cheered for the champion he is with equal enthusiasm. This year that spirit was displayed right to the very end when Alex Vinokourov trounced the traditional sprinter fest in Paris .
Next year the 93 rd TdF will be greeted with undiminished enthusiasm when about 190 of the greatest champions of any sport again take center stage throughout most of July.