As thousands of his fellow Danes cheered wildly, Bjarne Riis won his first Tour de France on Sunday, ending Spaniard Miguel Indurain's bid for an unprecedented six straight victories.
"It's the biggest thing in my whole life," said Riis, who had tears in his eyes after the race. "Everything went perfect for me in the Tour."
But he won't get much time to rest. Riis will be welcomed as a national hero Monday during a parade in downtown Copenhagen before he flies across the ocean for his next quest.
"Now Atlanta will be the next big thing," he said of his trip to the Olympics.
Riis and Indurain, both 32, will be among professional cyclists competing in the Olympics for the first time in the road race July 31 and the individual time trial Aug. 3.
Riis, the first Dane to win the Tour, took several victory laps on the Champs Elysees after the race, waving a large Danish flag and acknowledging thousands of Danish fans.
Italy's Fabio Baldato won the final stage of cycling's most prestigious race, which began in the Netherlands on June 29. After a 92-mile sprint from Palaiseau to Paris, the cyclists sped eight laps in front of hundreds of thousands of fans on the Champs Elysees in downtown Paris.
Riis won with the help of his strong Telekom team and aggressive attacks in the climbing stages. He won two climbing stages and finished second in another.
Germany's Jan Ullrich, 22, also of the Telekom team, finished second overall, just 1:41 behind Riis, in his first Tour.
Indurain, the five-time champion from Spain, finished 11th overall. He appeared to have been the victim of many factors, including weather, a weak team and, most startlingly, a lack of peak condition.
"Last year he looked ripped," said Frankie Andreu, an American with the Motorola team, referring to Indurain's lean and muscular physique. "You looked at him and said, "Holy cow, man, he can rip the cranks off the bike.'
"This year you didn't see that kind of definition. During the race, you could see he was suffering a little bit more, struggling."
The first 10 days after the start in the Netherlands were marked by incessant cold rain and even snow in the Alps. Indurain prefers heavy heat, which came too late, and he was unable to shed a bit of extra weight he brought to the Tour.
While it was no more than about 3 pounds, which he expected to lose quickly in the usual Tour heat, even that little makes a major difference in the mountains to a rider of Indurain's size: 6 feet 2, 176 pounds.
Apparently Riis is a late bloomer. Fifth in the 1993 Tour and third last year, he did not assume the many responsibilities of a team leader until this year.
Before that he was a support rider and a lieutenant in France and Italy. Although he has won daily stages in the Giro d'Italia and the Tour, his overall victory in this Tour was his first major one in a 10-year professional career.
When he joined Telekom this season, he announced that his only goal was to win the Tour.
Americans fared poorly in this year's Tour. Lance Armstrong pulled out of during the sixth stage, and George Hincapie left after crashing in the 14th stage.
Only Andreu of Dearborn, Mich., completed the race, finishing 111th overall at 2:48:45 back.