France Learns to Love Lance

By Jason Farago,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 10, 2009 6:46 AM CDT
American seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong waits for the start of the seventh stage of the Tour de France this morning. Today's stage begins in Barcelona and ends in Andorra.   (AP Photo/Bas Czerwinski)
camera-icon View 3 more images

(Newser) – Lance Armstrong is racing for his eighth yellow jersey, but the cyclist has already won a more elusive prize: the respect of the cycle-mad French. From 1999 to 2005, the years he dominated the Tour de France, many French fans saw him as frigid and haughty, and the press hounded him with doping accusations that were never confirmed. But now, reports the Wall Street Journal, the Tour's host nation has finally embraced the seven-time champion.

This year he is dominating French coverage of the race, and long-time fans seem to have come around. "In the past he was a bit arrogant, but now he’s more likable," said one 61-year-old. "I think others will change their opinion of him." Armstrong, a few hundredths of a second behind the leader after six stages, has himself noticed a warmer atmosphere in the provincial towns the Tour passes through. After worrying that he might actually be attacked by spectators, he's found, to the contrary, "thousands stopping on the side of the road," he told AP. "People are cool."