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Vive le Lance!

Armstrong cruises to 3rd consecutive Tour de France win

PARIS — At long last, Lance Armstrong got to do some sightseeing.

Riding at a leisurely pace down the Champs-Elysees in the final stage of the Tour de France, the Texan caught a good look at the Arc de Triomphe, the Place de la Concorde and the Louvre museum.

It mattered little that he finished the stretch in 70th place.

He had locked up his third Tour title an entire week earlier in the mountains, where there was no time for taking in the scenery.

The jagged peaks of the Alps flashed by as Armstrong sprinted to the top of L'Alpe d'Huez, leaving his main rival, Jan Ullrich, nearly two minutes behind.

Nor was there was opportunity to appreciate the wild beauty of the densely wooded Pyrenees when Armstrong powered up a grueling climb to Pla d'Adet, cementing his lead.

He won the stage, taking the leader's yellow jersey, which he kept all the way to Paris. He looked up to the sky and dedicated his victory to former teammate Fabio Casartelli, who fatally crashed there in the 1995 Tour.

Armstrong built up a lead of six minutes and 44 seconds over Ullrich in the overall standings, an unbeatable advantage that only accident or sickness in the final days could have undone.

So there was no need for extra exertion on Sunday, and Armstrong crossed the finish line with the main pack, lost but for his bright yellow jersey among his colorfully clad fellow riders.

"It's the best feeling of the last three (wins)," Armstrong said in faltering French after finishing the last of 20 legs. "As always I am happy to finally arrive, to finally finish the Tour. It's a special feeling."

With the majestic Arc de Triomphe behind him, Armstrong stood at attention during "The Star-spangled Banner" and smiled with satisfaction as he savored an end to three weeks of grueling racing.

The only hitch came when he tried to take a lap of honor; the Texas flag he was waving got caught briefly in his bike chain. He grinned sheepishly as he awaited help, then continued up the Champs-Elysees as tens of thousands of spectators looked on.

French fans, who favor their own cycling heroes and find Armstrong somewhat distant, cheered his achievement.

"He's untouchable, it's true," said Dominique Maquet, 43, who came to Paris from the Ardennes region near Belgium to watch the finish under a scorching July sun.

"Perfect," said Pierre Couturier, a 53-year-old postman from Normandy, giving the thumbs-up sign. "Armstrong totally deserved it."

This victory was in some ways the most impressive of all three wins. Because this time, the field he crushed was in top form — especially Ullrich.

"I don't know what I should do," said Ullrich after losing at L'Alpe d'Huez. "I did everything well — except for Lance. I'm in super shape. Maybe he will have a breakdown."

It didn't happen, and on Sunday, Armstrong became the only American to win three straight Tours. Greg LeMond also won three times, but with a two-year gap between his first and second titles.

The Tour record is five titles, but for now Armstrong says he isn't interested.

"I'm not chasing a record," he said. "I never thought I would get to this point.

"It was a surprise for me even to make it back to the sport," he added, referring to his comeback from advanced testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs and brain.

Unlike previous editions of the Tour, this one was almost free of doping scandals. Questions did arise over Armstrong's working relationship with an Italian doctor whose name has been linked to doping. He again denied he's used banned substances and said he would review his relationship with Dr. Michele Ferrari.

In the only other incident, Spanish rider Txema Del Olmo was dropped from the race by his Euskaltel team after testing positive in a doping test to what his squad only called "abnormalities."

Czech rider Jan Svorada won Sunday's stage, the 20th of a more-than 2,100-mile ride through France and Belgium.

With Ullrich in second place overall and Spaniard Joseba Beloki third, the finish was identical to last year's. It was only the second time in Tour history that the same riders have finished 1-2-3 in consecutive years.

"It was one of the funner victories I've had here," Armstrong said of his latest triumph. "Definitely the strongest I've ever been."