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By Staff and wire reports
Lance Armstrong’s triumphant farewell to cycling Sunday in Paris with his seventh consecutive Tour de France victory brought praise from across America, including a call from U.S. President George W. Bush.
Bush telephoned Armstrong, a fellow Texan, shortly after the finish from his retreat in Camp David, Maryland, said White House spokeswoman Christie Parell.
“Our country and the world are incredibly proud of you,” Bush told Armstrong, adding that his victory was “a great triumph of the human spirit” and “a testament not only to your athletic talent but to your courage.”
Armstrong was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1996 that had spread to his lungs and brain. His chances for survival were poor but instead he came through treatment and ultimately came back to win an unprecedented seven Tour de France titles in a row.
Actress Ashley Judd, watching her Scottish auto racer husband Dario Franchitti finish second Sunday in Milwaukee, said, “I would like to send my congratulations to Lance – really awesome accomplishment.”
The Austin American-Statesman, Armstrong’s hometown newspaper, related the story Sunday of Terese Wier, who penned a tribute tune to Armstrong and made it available on the internet even before his singer-girlfriend Sheryl Crow could.
Wier’s “Je t’aime Lance,” or “I Love You Lance”, is a snappy acoustic song honoring the cyclist.
“I dreamt the first verse and chorus, and the rest flowed pretty well,” Wier said. “It’s a great lighthearted celebration of Lance and what he’s done for our community.”
Her lyrics include:There’s a guy named Lance, Who rides his bike in France, As he weaves in and out, He hears everyone shout, ‘Go Lance. Go Lance.’He’s a miracle man, He beat cancer – you can, He’s helping others today, To live strong each day… They call him mon ami, All around Paris, When he goes flyin’ by, All the French girls cry…Who knew a blue-eyed boy from Texas would ride rings around the world?
Pondering life on two feet instead of two wheels, Armstrong told Outside magazine that he might consider a run for governor of Texas after 2006.
Armstrong’s political hint drew support from Democratic Senator John Kerry. “He would be a force. I just hope it’s for the right party,” Kerry said. “He’s a terrific person with an unbelievable personal story and he understands the seriousness of a number of different choices and issues. What has made him so special in the Tour de France and as an athlete is his level of focus, discipline, intelligence, strategic ability and obviously his endurance – his ability to just take it on and go. You’ve got to do all those things.”
Tom Udall, a U.S. Representative from New Mexico, called Armstrong “an American icon both on and off the bike” and added: “He embodies hope and determination… He has been a positive role model for people of all ages. From raising awareness of cancer to encouraging active healthy lifestyles, Lance has been an inspiration to millions of people around the world.”
Former Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka also paid tribute to Armstrong, although some details of the effort escaped the retired American football mastermind.
“Look at that guy in France riding that bike,” Ditka said. “I have no idea what he’s doing over there. But do you understand how hard that is? Get on your bike and ride for 10 minutes and tell me how you feel. And this guy is going to win again? This guy is going to live his dream again? That’s just amazing.”
Many Americans have trouble deciphering the Tour’s stage format, most not paying enough attention to understand the time gains mountainous stages can bring and the reasons behind teamwork and allowing rivals to win other stages.
Kansas City Star columnist Joe Posnanski admitted: “I don’t understand how any of this works. I’ve been following the Tour de France since Armstrong started winning and I still don’t get it. Stages? Time trials? And I’m not the only one who is mystified. Last week, a man called to ask if ‘Armstrong had caught that guy Pyrénées for the lead.’ I had to say, ‘Uh, Pyrénées is not a person. It’s a mountain range.’ To which he replied: ‘Oh, so he did catch him?'”
Posnanski later noted: “Hey, stupid people should be allowed to enjoy the Tour de France, too.”
Albert Lucas, a 45-year-old juggler, set a world record Friday in South Carolina by juggling seven rings with one hand and dedicated the mark to Armstrong, wearing a replica of the US cycling star’s team jersey for the feat. “Lance has been an inspiration to me and a lot of other people,” Lucas said. “It’s fabulous what he’s done, the ultimate comeback story. What I did was my way of paying tribute.” Lucas used rings that were painted yellow and inscribed “Live Strong” to resemble the wristbands Armstrong uses to raise money for cancer research. “Unlike Lance, who is retiring with seven, I’m going for eight (rings) with one hand someday,” Lucas said. “Like Lance has proven, nothing is impossible.”
The Italian press hailed Armstrong as “a cycling legend” after the American won the Tour for the seventh consecutive time.
“Into the club of the immortals,” boomed the Gazzetta dello Sport, comparing Armstrong with seven-time Wimbledon tennis champion Pete Sampras and seven-time Olympic swimming gold medallist Mark Spitz.
“Lance says goodbye to cycling on the highest of highs, claiming his seventh yellow jersey. His greatness stretches beyond anyone’s imagination,” declared the paper. “He is the miracle man, the Tour specialist. Merckx and Hinault, who won everything in cycling (including five Tour de France victories each), cannot be compared with him. Armstrong devoured yellow jerseys.
“He became the miracle man in 1999 when he won his first Tour after winning his battle with cancer. Then he went on to win it another six times.”
The editorial in the Gazzetta said Armstrong stuck to his game plan and never looked like being beaten.
“He had a simple formula – two great time trials and a superb first mountain stage. The rest of the race he had under control.”
Agence France Presse contributed to this report