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The 94th Tour de France ended as it started with Thor Hushovd taking victory, adding the prestigious bunch sprint win on Paris's Champs Elyses to his prologue success in Strasbourg three weeks ago. As the Norwegian powered home ahead of Robbie McEwen at the front of the bunch, 68 places behind Hushovd overall leader Floyd Landis was finally able to celebrate his first Tour de France victory, in the process taking the USA's winning run in the race to eight.
The final day run as it traditionally does, a slow start giving Landis the chance to toast his team-mates and his own success with champagne. King of the Mountains Michael Rasmussen was unchallenged as he led the race over the first of the day's two small climbs, and the field was finally led onto the Champs Elyses by 40-year-old Slava Ekimov, who has ridden every Tour bar two since 1990.
The eight laps on the Champs Elyses saw the usual flurry of attacks, with Britain's David Millar among the most prominent of the aggressors. However, unlike last year when Alexandre Vinokourov slipped away in the final kilometre for a canny win, the sprinters' teams were ready for all ruses and stamped down a late attempt by Discovery Channel's Yaroslav Popovych and George Hincapie to get clear.
That left the sprinters to decide the stage, or at least those few that were left. McEwen, who was guaranteed the points title for a third time as long as he finished, led the charge, but ran out of juice short of the line and could not respond when Hushovd flashed by for his first bunch sprint win of the race.
"This is a stage I've wanted to win for a long time," said Hushovd. "I've been in all sorts of states during this year's Tour. I've been hurt on the arm, then disqualified, which put me out of contention for the green jersey, but I knew there were other things to race for. I was thinking of this victory in the Pyrenees and it helped me to get over the big mountain passes. I found myself on McEwen's wheel and able to pass him in the final metres. Today I was stronger than him, it's impossible to end the Tour in a better way."
McEwen, who was looking for his fourth stage win of the race, was sanguine in defeat. "It could have gone a little bit better today but I just didn't have the legs. I lost a bit of speed on the last turn and I didn't have the power to hold of Hushovd, he was really strong," said the Australian. "Three stage wins this year, three green jerseys and I'm happy with that. If I could have signed up for that before the Tour had started I would have been surprised. This year, I think I was as fast as ever. I'm very focused and it's great to get the green jersey again.
"This Tour was one of the toughest I've ever ridden. It was not just the heat and the conditions but the way it was raced; it was really aggressive. There was no absolute control like in the Armstrong years and it made for a really hard race. Everyone suffered a lot and I think we're all glad it's over."
The last word should go to Landis, who not only won the race with great panache but also by giving his fans some heart-stopping moments along the way. "I've heard it said that I had a great comeback but I'll let other people be the judge of that. I'm proud of the way my team raced and pleased with how I rode. It was probably more exciting to watch on television than it was for us. It was a bit stressful at times," he said. "I've imagined winning this race quite a few times. I was fortunate enough to be here a few times with Lance and see how he did it and that helps but it's quite an experience to do it myself."
He went on to suggest that the hip operation he's due will be scheduled for sooner rather than later. "The best case scenario is that I won't miss any time racing. I didn't plan on doing any more races this year so hopefully I'll get my problems out of the way and I'll take it one day at a time after that but I think I'll be all right."
Stage 20, Antony-Paris Champs Elyses
1 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Crdit Agricole 154.5km in 3.56.52 (39.14kph)
2 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto
3 Stuart O'Grady (Aus) CSC
4 Erik Zabel (Ger) Milram
5 Luca Paolini (Ita) Liquigas
6 Samuel Dumoulin (Fra) Ag2r
7 Bernhard Eisel (Aut) Franaise des Jeux
8 Anthony Geslin (Fra) Bouygues Telecom
9 Alessandro Ballan (Ita) Lampre
10 Peter Wrolich (Aut) Gerolsteiner
Final overall standings
1 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak Hearing Systems 89.39.30 (40.78kph)
2 Oscar Pereiro (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne 0.57
3 Andreas Klden (Ger) T-Mobile 1.29
4 Carlos Sastre (Spa) CSC 3.13
5 Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto 5.08
6 Denis Menchov (Rus) Rabobank 7.06
7 Cyril Dessel (Fra) Ag2r 8.41
8 Christophe Moreau (Fra) Ag2r 9.37
9 Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Euskaltel 12.05
10 Michael Rogers (Aus) T-Mobile 15.07
1 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto 288
2 Erik Zabel (Ger) Milram 199
3 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Crdit Agricole 195
1 Michael Rasmussen (Den) Rabobank 166
2 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak 131
3 David De La Fuente (Spa) Saunier Duval 113
Best young rider: Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-Fondital
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