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By John Wilcockson
With his seventh consecutive Tour de France victory locked up, Lance Armstrong is ready to ride the final stage of his final Tour and the very last competitive event of his professional cycling career. He did say Saturday night that after retirement he might show up to race a local cyclo-cross or mountain-bike race, or even a 10K run or triathlon. But this is it for Lance the pro cyclist.
Stage 21 of the 92nd Tour de France finishes on the Champs-Élysées for the 30th year. It previously finished in the velodromes at Vincennes (1968-74) and the Parc des Princes (1904-67). The first Tour, in 1903, finished at Ville d’Avray in the Paris suburbs.
After looping around the Chevreuse valley south of Paris, the 144.5km course heads into the city on the right bank of the Seine to reach the Champs-Élysées finishing circuit after 90km. Eight laps of the 6.5km circuit complete the 2005 Tour some 300 meters after the final right turn from the Place de la Concorde.
The Paris finale nearly always produces a sprint finish, taken in recent years by Tom Boonen, Jean-Patrick Nazon and Robbie McEwen. Both Boonen and Nazon pulled out of the Tour during the first 12 stages, which leaves McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) as the hot favorite to win for the fourth time in this Tour. His main rivals will be the two green-jersey contenders Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole), and Stuart O’Grady (Cofidis), while Baden Cooke (Française des Jeux) is capable of pulling off a surprise win at the end of a disappointing Tour for him.
Also look for Alex Vinokourov (T-Mobile) to try to make up the two-second deficit he has on fifth-place Levi Leipheimer (Gerolsteiner) — either by attacking for a time bonus at one of the two intermediate sprints (at Châtenay-Malabry after 75km or on the third lap of the Champs-Élysées) or by attacking in the finale.
As for Lance, he will be able to cruise into Paris before he receives the 83rd yellow jersey of his life, stands with his hand on his heart for the U.S. national anthem, and then – for the first time by any Tour winner – conducts an interview broadcast over public address to the half-million spectators watching the show.