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Paris

Posted by MDugard on Jul 1, 2006 5:27:57 AM

Paris. It's raining lightly, with more showers forecast throughout the day. Through a lucky twist of fate I can see the Eiffel Tower out my window. I haven't been outside yet, but can tell you for certain that crowds are already lining the barricades along the Champs Elysees, despite the weather. For today marks the end of Lance Armstrong's illustrious cycling career. After today's 100-mile stage he will stand atop that podium in La Place de la Concorde and hear the national anthem played in his honor one last time. The moment should be emotional and unforgettable. Hence the millions who will turn out today, despite the rain.I don't think much needs to be said about yesterday's time trial. Lance dominated, Ulrich rode very strong (Lance later joked that Discovery Team should hire Jan next year), and Mickael Rasmussen had the sort of comical misadventures that ensure his name will forever be etched in Tour history. Lance dominated, plain and simple.The press conference was poignant. Lance let on that his children may have been a driving force behind his return for a seventh title. He wanted them to see him in yellow one last time, so they would remember that he went out as a champion. Armstrong also stated that he is an athlete, and will still compete to keep himself fit. He specifically mentioned doing a few running and biking events in his hometown. Then he joked about maybe doing an Ironman in a couple years. He quickly brushed that one aside, but I thought it interesting that he'd been thinking about it. After Lance stepped down from the podium, members of the press, seeking autographs, swarmed him. I've never seen such behavior. Very often in this last week, the word "hagiography" was used to describe the media's treatment of Lance. Some of those charges were true (I must say that I thought Craig Hummer of OLN was a very notable exception), but the fact is, Lance had the race in the bag. There was nothing else to report, other than the fact that the greatest bicycle racer in history (Barry "The Cannibal" Muzzin notwithstanding) was in the final week of his career. A certain sentiment crept in. This was understandable. But yesterday's press conference was a veritable love fest -- as it should have been. No six- (and soon to be seven-) time winner of the Tour de France should be treated less than heroically after a performance like yesterday's.Jumped in the Passat and drove up here after Lance's press conference. Paris was still very much awake when Austin and I arrived a little after one. The area around the Place de la Concorde was teeming with pedestrians, and a carnival was underway, complete with Ferris wheel. Gendarmes were tending to a young woman who was lying on her back in the middle of the Rue Rivoli, crying after being hit by a car. The barricades were already in place. Austin and I were staying at different hotels, so we parted ways after this long, incredible journey. The two of us made a formidable team as we navigated our way around the maddening roads of this beguiling country. Our conversations veered from the poignant to the profane, and my only regret is that his calf injury put him on injured reserve status and precluded participation in the daily runs. He's a great friend and a phenomenal writer. Make sure you pick up a copy of Sports Illustrated this week to check out his Lance piece. As we speak, he's holed up in his room, trying to beat a New York deadline. So pick it up. I guarantee it's going to be a keeper.Thanks, Austin.And that's the end of the journey for us, too (unless something unprecedented takes place this afternoon, knocking Lance off the podium. Then I''ll be scrambling for the laptop). I have been overwhelmed with the warmth and wit of the emails I've received from around the world. It is a slightly surreal situation, for instance, to send off a dispatch from some remote French pasture and get a response from Singapore. What I've tried to do is give you all a feel for the Tour from a fresh perspective. Hopefully, I've succeeded. I must admit, however, that as much as I've written online, I've been holding back the best stuff for the book (shameless plug coming up). Chasing Lance will be in stores come November. I hope you'll all check it out, and maybe tell a friend or two. Thanks for being such a thoughtful, knowledgeable group of readers.I need to thank Bob Babbitt at Competitor Magazine (in addition to helping make these dispatches happen, he's a longtime friend and forthright critic); Ben the Webmaster; the folks at Active.com, who carried these dispatches along with Competitor; Dr. Steven Brady, for his insightful emails into motivation; Jeremy Schaap (a formidable historian, by the way), Rick Reilly, and even The Legend; Gordon Wright and Jeff Bentley; J. Austin Murphy III. Geoff Shandler and Eric Simonoff are a pivotal part of all this. The Bongo Boys -- Devin, Connor, and Liam. Most of all, of course, I need to thank my wife, Calene. How many wives encourage their husbands to grab a buddy and drive around France for three weeks? Words cannot express the magnitude of my love. All the best,Martin Dugard

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