Lance Armstrong became only the fifth man to win three consecutive Tour de France titles in a party atmosphere in Paris today.
While Erik Zabel and Stuart O’Grady sweated it out in their neck-and-neck race for the green points jersey, the Texan enjoyed a pacey ride around the Champs-Elysees with his US Postal Service team-mates.
Stars and stripes were dotted all over the French capital as Armstrong joined Miguel Indurain, Eddy Merckx, Jacques Anquetil and Louision Bobet in securing the yellow jersey in three consecutive seasons.
Jan Ullrich was forced to settle for second place for the fourth time since 1996 while Joseba Beloki took third in a mirror of last year’s podium.
The competition for the green jersey meant there was an aggressive edge to the final stage as Zabel started the day just two points behind O’Grady.
The Australian was always going to be up against it as Zabel enjoyed the support of the well-oiled Telekom machine.
The man in pink quickly caught O’Grady before opening up a four-point advantage as the lead group headed into the last of 10 laps around the Champs-Elysees.
Jan Svorada of Lampre Daikin enjoyed the honour of winning the final stage but all eyes were on Zabel who took second, just ahead of O’Grady, to win the points title for a record sixth consecutive year.
France’s Laurent Jalabert completed the formality of winning the King of the Mountains’ polka-dot jersey for CSC-Tiscali and attracted the biggest cheer from the locals.
Kelme-Costa Blanca earned the team title for the second straight year despite the disappointing performance of Santiago Botero.
The Colombian was tipped as a possible dark horse for the yellow jersey after taking the King of the Mountains crown last year but failed to reach the same heights.
After all the lesser baubles had been handed out, the day belonged to Armstrong.
His hat-trick should ensure he belatedly gets the respect he deserves, even in France where the media are still adjusting after two years to the American’s brash manner.
When he won for the first time in 1999, his victory was put down to the absence of Jan Ullrich and Marco Pantani, winners in 1997 and 1998.
His 2000 success was marred by allegations of drug use and a subsequent investigation by the French authorities which found no evidence of cheating.
And rumours continue to dog the 29-year-old over his relationship with a doctor who is being prosecuted for doping offences in Italy.
But Armstrong is probably the most tested athlete in the world and has proved nothing less than squeaky-clean and his achievements need no qualifying.
On the slopes of Alpe d’Huez at the end of Stage 10 he went eyeball to eyeball with Ullrich, the biggest threat to his title, and crushed the German with a punishing attack which no-one in the peloton could match.
Ullrich never recovered and the other contenders were no match for Armstrong who established his rule in the Alps and reigned in the Pyrenees.
By the time the race pushed up through France towards Paris, the American’s charge could only be halted by a disaster which never materialised and he revelled in his third triumph in the Parisian sun.
Final general classification:
1 L Armstrong (USA) US Postal Service 86hrs 17mins 28secs,
2 J Ullrich (Ger) Telekom at 6mins 44secs,
3 J Beloki (Spa) ONCE-Eroski 9:05,
4 A Kivilev (Kaz) Cofidis 9:53,
5 IG De Galdeano (Spa) ONCE-Eroski 13:28,
6 F Simon (Fra) Bonjour 17:22,
7 O Sevilla (Spa) Kelme-Costa Blanca 18:30,
8 S Botero (Col) Kelme-Costa Blanca 20:55,
9 M Serrano (Spa) ONCE-Eroski 21:45,
10 M Boogerd (Ned) Rabobank 22:38,
11 D Rous (Fra) Bonjour 24:22,
12 I Chaureau (Spa) Euskaltel-Euskadi 28:09,
13 F Mancebo (Spa) iBanesto.com 28:33,
14 S Garzelli (Ita) Mapei-Quick Step 29:00,
15 R Heras (Spa) US Postal Service 30:44,
16 A Vinokourov (Kaz) Telekom 33:55,
17 A Botcharov (Rus) Ag2R-Prevoyance 41:15,
18 B Julich (USA) Credit Agricole 48:04,
19 L Jalabert (Fra) CSC-Tiscali 50:06,
20 C Sastre (Spa) ONCE-Eroski 50.20