Gritty Armstrong proves a point

Third-placed American eager to return for another tilt at the crown

Lance Armstrong thanks the fans after the conclusion of this year’s Tour de France on Sunday. AP

To finish on the Tour podium at nearly 38 years old is a formidable achievement, especially after such a long time off the bike, yet Armstrong had looked so untouchable during his seven-year reign on the race the result was relatively disappointing.

Armstrong, third overall, acknowledged winner Alberto Contador was the best rider in this Tour, even though life in the Astana team may not have been easy for two exceptional athletes with strong characters and conflicting ambitions.

"I am happy and overall pleased how it turned out. Alberto was far superior than any riders and Andy (Schleck) rode a very consistent and smart race," Armstrong said.
"For an old fart coming in here and getting on the podium with these young guys, was not so bad," he joked.  Luxembourg's Andy Schleck, 24, was second overall thanks to his consistency in the climbs.  But Armstrong was far from ready to bow to the up and coming generation of riders.  "I'll be better prepared in 2010," he warned in a news conference in the last week of the race.

While the Texan probably hoped for a better final result on a sporting level, Armstrong also returned to cycling to promote his foundation against cancer, Livestrong, and his Tour was a total success in that respect.

Livestrong bracelets and t-shirts were all over the place on the race and the most successful Tour rider even succeeded in gaining a long overdue popularity with the French public, who have considered him arrogant in the past. "People say I'm not the same rider I was four years ago," said Armstrong. "They probably like that and it pleases me too. It's the best way to sum up the situation," he said.

The American will have a new tool to achieve his goal of winning an eighth Tour. He announced after Thursday's time trial in Annecy he was leaving Astana to launch his own team.

The move could help him have a whole team at his service, although the list of riders has yet to be confirmed.

The question is whether he can win the 2010 Tour without turning back into the Armstrong of old in the eyes of his new French fans.

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