Tour De France: An Admirable Finish For Armstrong

The grueling cycling race comes to an end on the Champs Elysee in Paris today. Lance Armstrong came out of retirement to return to the race this year. Host Liane Hansen talks to NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

The Tour de France finishes up today in Paris, Lance Armstrong came out of retirement to return to the race this year. He won't win, but is likely to come in third.

NPR's Eleanor Beardsley has been following the race for the past three weeks. And she joins us from Paris. Hi, Eleanor.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: Hello, Liane.

HANSEN: So, who will win today and could anything change at the last minute?

BEARDSLEY: Well, no. The last stage is largely ceremonial. In fact, I've been watching it on TV and the riders are riding along talking with each other, laughing and joking. So rarely has something changed in the last stage, so which will leave us with Alberto Contador, a 27-year-old Spaniard with the Astana team. He's going to take number one.

In the second place is Andy Schleck from Luxembourg with Saxo Bank. And third place, of course, Lance Armstrong. So Contador is seen as a really good all-around rider. He won the Tour in 2007 and he's the only Tour winner to have won all three of the major bike races, which is the Giro d'Italia and the Vuelta, which is the Tour of Spain. So he's just an all-around good rider.

And Andy Schleck has a brother on the Tour and they were like the attack dogs. They attacked Contador in the mountains and tried to get ahead of him, but never quite did it. But Andy Schleck placed second. And then, of course, our own Lance Armstrong will be third.

HANSEN: Is Lance Armstrong disappointed he didn't come in first?

BEARDSLEY: Absolutely not, Liane. In fact, this race has been fascinating because we've seen a new Lance Armstrong on this Tour. First of all, he's 38 years old. He's been out, you know, he's been in retirement for three-and-a-half years, he comes back and he's third place. So people can't believe it. They're stunned at how well he's done.

You know, I was out there on the Tour and they're saying, you know, the old Lance Armstrong who was arrogant and unapproachable, he's gone. And the new Lance Armstrong, he talks to people. He signs autographs. He doesn't walk around with a bunch of bodyguards. And even the announcers who are commenting the race, for the last three weeks, I think they've just been stunned by his performance.

You know, I have to say, there was this cloud of doping over him because everyone dopes, so people thought, well, he couldn't he won seven times without taking drugs. And I think this year he's proved that he may have actually done it without taking drugs 'cause at 38, look what he can do. He's come back as a new man and it's an amazing achievement.

HANSEN: And briefly, what are the new Lance Armstrong's plans now?

BEARDSLEY: Well, it seems that he can't live without cycling. He spoke yesterday and he's back. He's going to come back for the Tour de France in 2010, and he's got a new team with Radio Shack is going to be the sponsor. So he plans to come back hard and he's going to try to win it next year. And he says he's going to be in better shape and he might have a chance.

HANSEN: NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Paris. Thank you, Eleanor.

BEARDSLEY: Thank you, Liane.

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