Armstrong proves a winner

Later today -- perhaps earlier, depending on when you are reading this -- Lance Armstrong will close his professional bicycling career by riding into Paris in a bright yellow jersey, claiming a seventh straight victory in the Tour de France.
In the year 2005, Armstrong remains the only man to have won the Tour de France in the 21st century. His streak began in the summer of 1999.
We have written admiringly in this space about Armstrong before -- most recently last year, when he became the first rider to win six tours. Four bicyclists in history have won five. But we cannot resist writing about Armstrong at least one more time.
It is not just that he is the absolute best at what he does. Or that he dominates a sport in which Americans have not traditionally been the most powerful competitors.
Lance Armstrong has overcome something much larger than the Pyrenees mountains. Armstrong beat cancer.
A little history
Armstrong rode -- without distinction -- in his first Tour in 1993 and won just a couple of stages in 1994 and 1995. In October 1996, he announced that he had been diagnosed with testicular cancer, which had spread to his abdomen, lungs and brain. A surgeon spent six hours delicately removing tumors from Armstrong's brain and surgery was followed by brutal cycles of chemotherapy.
"It put pain in perspective for me, it put suffering and defeat in perspective," Armstrong said in an Associated Press interview. "The illness taught me how to really suffer and to suffer slowly, and it's not as if you get sick and it hurts and a week later you get better, it's a long type of suffering, physical, emotional, mental, social.
Still recovering, Armstrong sat out the 1997 and 1998 tours. He returned in 1999 and hasn't lost since.
After today's largely ceremonial last leg of a grueling race that began July 2, Armstrong will drink a victor's toast in Paris. As he retires by choice while at the top of his sport, he's earned that toast. And he's earned respect and admiration from anyone who can appreciate the determination it takes to be a winner in sports -- and in life.

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