Not often does the American national anthem sound over the Champs D’Elysees in Paris, but in honor of the extraordinary achievements of Lance Armstrong, the French were willing to make an exception. Armstrong parlayed a childhood interest in sports – at the age of twelve he came in fourth in the Texas state 1,500-meter freestyle competitions, and before he turned 19 he was ranked the top junior triathlete – into a storied career in bicycle racing, winning seven consecutive Tours de France before hanging up his racing helmet for good.
On this day, July 30, in 2001, Armstrong won his third consecutive Tour de France, the first American to ever achieve such a feat. Armstrong raced through 2,146-mile course in 86 hours, 17 minutes and 28 seconds, the third-fastest time in the history of the sport, and a full six minutes ahead of the second-place finalist, Germany’s Jan Ullrich.
During an early part of the race, before the track hit the Alps and the Pyrene mountains, Armstrong looked like he was trouble, visibly struggling and grimacing at the back of the pack. Broadcaster cameras zoomed in and commentators were announcing “Armstrong en difficulté.” Then just as suddenly, at the foot of the day’s last mountain, l’Alpe d’Huez, Armstrong revived and stepped on the bicycle pedals to quickly charge out in front. Armstrong admitted he was acting, and it worked. One of the competing team’s members said “When we saw the way he attacked, we all lost morale.”