Texan now nicknamed 'the boss' after easy victory

LANCE ARMSTRONG won his fourth Tour de France yesterday and his victory was so commanding that he earned a nickname from the bunch - the boss.

For three weeks and 3,900 kilometres, the American, now member of an exclusive group of five riders to have won cycling’s showcase race four times, dictated the rules to his rivals and was never in any serious trouble.

The Texan, who returned to the sport from a near-fatal cancer to win his first Tour in 1999, was so strong this year that he even announced his tactics to his opponents beforehand.

He was such a class above the rest that there was nothing Spaniard Joseba Beloki, second seven minutes 17 seconds behind, or third-placed Lithuanian Raimondas Rumsas could do to stop him.

Armstrong had shown signs of vulnerability in long time trials this season, losing the two he had entered prior to the Tour.

So when he lost the 55 kms solitary effort between Lanester and Lorient to Colombian Santiago Botero in the beginning of the race, his rivals might have had some hopes that the US Postal team leader was weaker than in previous seasons.

But it was just strategy on Armstrong’s part as he had trained hard for the mountains at the expense of his natural time trial skills.

His team chief Johan Bruyneel announced even before the time trial that losing it would not be too harmful, as his main rivals, Botero and Spaniard Igor Gonzalez Galdeano “never took a second off him in the mountains.”

In the Pyrenees, Armstrong set the record straight, winning the two stages finishing at La Mongie and Plateau de Beille to claim his customary yellow jersey back.

It was then that the French press and riders started to call Armstrong “the boss”. And the leader of the pack, from the Pyrenees onwards, was content with just destroying the opposition gradually with the help of Spanish team mates Roberto Heras and Jose-Luis Rubiera.

Some complained that neither Beloki’s once partners or Botero’s Kelme team attacked the American. But the reason was a simple one - Armstrong struck first and never gave them a chance.

There were also dreams of an all-Spanish alliance to try and beat the Texan. But the two most impressive Spaniards in the Tour, Heras and Rubiera, were on his side.

Armstrong sealed his fourth victory with another convincing win in the last time trial of the Tour in the Beaujolais vineyards.

His only regret may be that he again failed in his attempt to win at the Mont Ventoux, cycling’s most famous and most gruelling climb, as he was unable to catch veteran French climber Richard Virenque.

Now, with his greed for victory intact, Armstrong not only looks set to emulate Jacques Anquetil, Bernard Hinault, Eddy Merckx and Miguel Indurain by winning a fifth Tour crown next year but could do even better. The lack of serious opposition was so blatant that some, like Frenchman Hinault, even forecast that the American could become the first rider to win the Tour six times.

Aside from Armstrong, it was the veteran riders who stole the show with Frenchman Laurent Jalabert claiming his second successive king of the mountains jersey in his last season.

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