Sarkozy's Collapse Doesn't Steal Tour's Thunder
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
The '96 Tour de France ended in Paris yesterday and not even the collapse of French President Nicolas Sarkozy while he was jogging could overshadow the spirit of that moment. Spanish cyclist Alberto Contador won the race for the second time and American Lance Armstrong placed third, but in many eyes that was a victory.
Eleanor Beardsley sends this report.
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ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: Once again, Lance Armstrong was on the winner's podium when the Tour de France ended Sunday in Paris. While he might not have stood on the top steps this year, for many his accomplishment was greater given his age and the fact that he's been out of competition for so long.
Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken) Lance Armstrong.
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BEARDSLEY: During the three weeks and more than 2000 miles of grueling mountain climbs, baking heat and withering time trials, Armstrong showed he's got what it takes to win, but he also showed he's got what it takes to lose. Eventually recognizing his teammate Alberto Contador is the better rider, Armstrong worked to support him. That and other gestures transformed him in the eyes of the public says Jean Simon, who writes for the French sports newspaper L'Equipe.
Mr. JEAN SIMON (Writer, L'Equipe newspaper): (Through French Translator) He completely seduced the French public. He used to be considered arrogant, dominating and not a sympathetic person, but this year that all changed because he was relaxed, fun, he didn't take himself so seriously, and he lost. That made him human.
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BEARDSLEY: Massive crowds poured out on to Paris' most famous avenue, the Les Champs-Élysées for the finish, including some Danish guys wearing a Viking helmets and singing.
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BEARDSLEY: Their song might be about Lance but they're here to support Andy, that's rider Andy Schleck who came in second and rides for the Danish team Saxo Bank. But their group is also here to have a good time says Rasmus(ph) Olsen(ph).
Mr. RASMUS OLSEN: In the televisions in Denmark, people are watching. It's very popular, in fact. We were following the tour for a week now. It's amazing.
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BEARDSLEY: For the first time in at least four years the Tour de France ended without a single rider testing positive for doping. That may have been because of stricter methods and new rule that allows blood samples to be kept and tested retroactively for up to eight years.
Armstrong announced that he will return to the Tour again next year, and cycling fan President Sarkozy is doing fine and will be released from the hospital this morning.
BEARDSLEY: For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.
MONTAGNE: And just in, we have the report that President Sarkozy has been released.
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