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With the Arc de Triomphe in the distance and a sea of fans along the roadside, Lance Armstrong stood on the podium at the Tour de France on Sunday, two spots below what he was used to.

Alberto Contador listened to the national anthem of Spain on the podium next to Andy Schleck of Luxembourg, left, and Lance Armstrong, right.

From 1999 to 2005, Armstrong won this race, the most prestigious event in cycling. This time, he was third, behind the winner Alberto Contador of Spain and Andy Schleck of Luxembourg.

But for the 37-year-old Armstrong — and for many in the cycling community — it was a victory, even though Armstrong fell short of crossing the finish line first.

“I did my best,” Armstrong said before the 21st and final stage of the race, which is typically a ceremonial ride to the Champs-Élysées for the top overall riders. “I came across some guys who were better than me. That’s all I could ask for.”

With Armstrong at this Tour — a 2,150-mile, or 3,459.5-kilometer, race through four countries and two principalities — the race commanded more worldwide attention than the last three Tours did. Those races had gone on during his short-lived retirement.

This time, Hollywood stars like Robin Williams, Ben Stiller and Matthew McConaughey dropped in, paying a visit to Armstrong, the most famous American cyclist.

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