American Floyd Landis won the Tour de France Sunday, as the world’s greatest bicycle race wrapped up three weeks of racing with its traditional finale on the elegant cobbles of the Champs-Élysées in Paris.
The Phonak captain crossed the finish line of the final stage, a 154km stage from the suburb of Antony, in 69th place behind Norwegian Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole), who surged to his second stage win of the race, outsprinting Australian Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto). Another Australian, Stuart O’Grady (CSC), finished third on the stage.
Landis, 30, becomes the third winner of the race from the United States. Greg LeMond was the first to win the yellow jersey in 1986 and the first American to win it three times, having also triumphed in 1989 and 1990.
Lance Armstrong’s seven-year reign as the race champion came to an end last year when he retired from the sport.
Hushovd reminded the cycling world that he is still one of the world’s best sprinters by book-ending his Tour de France with an emphatic stage win that provided the perfect complement to his win in the July 1 prologue in Strasbourg.
As expected, there was no change in the top overall places. Landis’s final winning margin in the 93rd Tour de France was 57 seconds over Spain’s Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d’Épargne-Illes Balears) and 1:29 over German Andreas Klöden (T-Mobile).
Hushovd’s sprint win secured him the rare feat of winning both the prologue and final stage in the same year. The last rider to pull that off was French five-time Tour champion Bernard Hinault in 1982. Belgian great Eddy Merckx, also a five-time Tour winner, preceded Hinault by notching two wins in both 1974 and 1970.
Hushovd’s win was deserved and brought to an end a dramatic Tour for the Norwegian. Photos of him bleeding profusely at the finish of stage 1 in Strasbourg, after his right arm was sliced by a camera held by a fan, were published around the world.
On Sunday, Hushovd survived the sprint intact, to finish four bike-lengths clear of McEwen. It was a fitting way to sooth any lingering frustration Hushovd may have felt for being relegated to last place for dangerous riding in the stage 4 sprint, which put the Crédit Agricole rider out of the hunt for his second consecutive green jersey.
Hushovd was thrilled with his triumph over McEwen. “I showed that I am still a big sprinter,” said the Norwegian, his broad smile beaming as brightly as the summer sun that shone down on the Champs-Élysées on a day in the upper 80s Fahrenheit. “Having won the prologue I really wanted to win today to take the first stage and last stages.”
It was clear by his sheer speed and strength that he had been looking after himself in the mountain stages this past week. And his buoyant mood in recent days was obviously an indicator that he was calm, in good morale and ready to win in Paris.
Hushovd timed his winning sprint perfectly, unlike McEwen, who jumped off the wheel of Austrian Peter Wrolich (Gerolsteiner) much too early – with about 250 meters still to go.
McEwen, who was chasing his fourth stage win of this Tour, led until about 100 meters to go, by which point the colossal figure of Hushovd drew level and then sped past the Aussie pocket rocket. McEwen had, however, already wrapped up the green-jersey points title for the third time in his career.
Hushovd was quick to praise his French teammate Sébastien Hinault for bringing him up to the front when the peloton split in the final 2km under pressure from the Discovery Channel trio of Russian Viatcheslav Ekimov, American George Hincapie and Ukrainian Yaroslav Popovych.
Their push was controlled, and about 20 riders charged around the turn together for the 400-meter-long sprint on the slightly uphill cobblestone stretch to the line.
“I owe a lot to Hinault, who rode so hard to pull back the break in the last kilometer,” said Hushovd. “When we came round the last corner I was just behind McEwen, and then when he went [off Wrolich’s wheel] I knew I could beat him because there was still 200 meters to go.”
McEwen was typically philosophical about his loss, accepting that he and his team had miscalculated the finish. “[Gert] Steegmans went past everybody on the right and we hit the last corner on the inside,” he said later.
“We didn’t hit the corner well and lost all our speed, and from that moment I thought, ‘This is going to be really difficult.’ Looking back I should have let Steegmans go into the corner and then come through behind the Crédit Agricole guys.
“I could have changed my line and adjusted my speed through the corner. Instead, I was bogged down and I went from just over 250 [meters] and it was too far. One hundred meters to go, I was blown.”
For the rest of the field, Sunday’s stage was a simple outing — a Sunday ride that began with the traditional photographing of all the yellow, green, polka-dot and white jersey winners in the early kilometers. But the race itself was anything but simple. It rolled through the southwest outskirts of Paris before starting the first of eight laps up and down the world’s most majestic stretch of cobblestones.
Upon hitting the famed Champs, Ekimov, 40, was granted the honor of riding clear of the peloton and starting the first circuit finish waving and clapping to the crowd. The gesture by the peloton was in recognition for his finishing all 15 of his Tours de France, tying him at second with Belgian Lucien Van Impe for the record number of Tour finishes. It remains to be seen if he will return to equal the record of 16 Tour finishes by Dutchman Joop Zoetemelk, or if today will go down as his Tour swansong.
Another person celebrated on Sunday was the outgoing Tour boss Jean-Marie Leblanc. At the start, the peloton presented him with a signed yellow jersey mounted with his photo below a big “Merci.”
After presenting Landis with his final yellow jersey, the former Tour rider and journalist joined his replacement as Tour director, Christian Prudhomme, to be escorted through a tunnel of Tour officials to their applause.
1. Thor Hushovd (Nor), Crédit Agricole
2. Robbie McEwen (Aus), Davitamon-Lotto, s.t.
3. Stuart O’Grady (Aus), CSC, s.t.
4. Erik Zabel (G), Milram, s.t.
5. Luca Paolini (I), Liquigas-Bianchi, s.t.
6. Samuel Dumoulin (F), Ag2r Prevoyance, s.t.
7. Bernhard Eisel (A), Française des Jeux, s.t.
8. Anthony Geslin (F), Bouygues Telecom, s.t.
9. Alessandro Ballan (I), Lampre, s.t.
10. Peter Wrolich (A), Gerolsteiner, s.t.
1. Floyd Landis (USA), Phonak
2. Oscar Pereiro Sio (Sp), Caisse d’Epargne-I.B., 00:57
3. Andréas Klöden (G), T-Mobile, at 1:29
4. Carlos Sastre (Sp), CSC, at 3:13
5. Cadel Evans (Aus), Davitamon-Lotto, at 5:08
6. Denis Menchov (Rus), Rabobank, at 7:06
7. Cyril Dessel (F), Ag2r Prevoyance, at 8:41
8. Christophe Moreau (F), Ag2r Prevoyance, at 9:37
9. Haimar Zubeldia (Sp), Euskaltel-Euskadi, at 12:05
10. Michael Rogers (Aus), T-Mobile, at 15:07
To see how the final stage developed, simply CLICKHERE to open our Live Update Window.