PARIS - Lance Armstrong will never ride in the Tour de France again. After seven years of dominance, he is trading in rough rides through the mountains for leisurely days on the beach.
Having stepped onto the podium for the last time on Sunday to celebrate his seventh straight Tour victory, Armstrong will spend a few days "with a beer, having a blast."
It's time for him to play with his kids, chill out with rocker girlfriend Sheryl Crow, and toast his success as the undisputed champion of cycling's most demanding event.
"I'm finished," Armstrong said.
He is moving far away from the awe-struck crowds that crossed countries for the merest glimpse, the six-hour training rides in pouring rain that gave him the edge over others, the stress of worrying whether his rivals could ever catch up.
Armstrong is now retired at the ripe old age of 33.
"We're just going to hang out in the south of France for a little while and do nothing," Crow said.
Armstrong loved the mystique that surrounds the 102-year-old Tour, and is proud to see his name listed above five-time champions Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain.
He hated the accusations that his success was based on anything other than a desire to push himself further than any other cyclist. He had an intense dedication to training and meticulous planning, and an ability to bring the best out of teammates.
"This is the most difficult event there is," Armstrong told French television. "I won it once, twice, three, four, five, six, and seven times, so of course they ask those questions. When you don't answer it as they like, they make up the answer for you."
Armstrong planned to escape to a resort near the French city of Nice on Monday.
After his final win, Armstrong set his sights on a Sunday night with friends, his mother, his three children, numerous sponsors, and teammates at a big bash at Paris' Ritz Hotel. He even invited longtime rival Jan Ullrich, the 1997 Tour winner and five-time runner-up - three to Armstrong.
Ullrich finished third this year, right behind Italy's Ivan Basso.
Armstrong will be back on the Tour next year, as adviser to close friend Johan Bruyneel, the Discovery Channel team director.
"I have a special place in my heart for this race," he said. "I dream about coming back to France, telling stories to my children. I really care about it."
Armstrong won the 23-day race comfortably, again.
He finished 4 minutes and 40 seconds ahead of Basso and 6:21 clear of Ullrich, who has finished off the podium only once since placing second during his debut in 1996. Ullrich struggled into a fourth-place finish last year.
Armstrong praised the two riders, who could fight to succeed him as champion next year.
"To end a career with this podium is really a dream," Armstrong said.
He hugged Ullrich, the powerful German rider who pushed him so close to defeat two years ago. Armstrong's winning margin in 2003 was 61 seconds, his smallest ever.
"What he did was sensational," Ullrich said. "It is his seventh victory. He deserved it."
Emotion flowed when Armstrong took the podium one last time, hand over heart, "The Star-Spangled Banner" ringing out over the Champs-Elysees.
"You have to cherish that moment because it won't ever happen again," Armstrong said Monday on ABC's "Good Morning America."
Behind her dark glasses, Crow fought back tears - as Armstrong had done Saturday when he won the Saint-Etienne time trial to clinch the final stage win of his illustrious career.
"It's a great story and to see it coming to a close for me, and I'm sure for a lot of other people, it's a very emotional experience," Crow said.
He led his three children up the podium steps. His 3-year-old twin daughters, Grace and Isabelle, wore yellow dresses and stood by their 5-year-old brother Luke.
"Vive le Tour, forever," Armstrong said in his parting speech, arms raised in the air one final time.
He also delivered a final shot at "the people who don't believe in cycling, the cynics and the skeptics" who suspect that doping is rife in the grueling sport and fueled his dominance.
"I'm sorry for you. I'm sorry you don't believe in miracles. But this is a hell of a race," he said. "You should believe in these athletes, and you should believe in these people. I'll be a fan of the Tour de France for as long as I live. And there are no secrets - this is a hard sporting event and hard work wins it."
Armstrong's all-encompassing approach to cycling modernized a sport steeped in tradition. Rivals fell behind as they failed to match his preparation.
"We did come along and revolutionize the cycling part, the training part, the equipment part. We're fanatics," Armstrong said.
The Tour's 21st and final leg, an 89.8-mile ride into Paris from Corbeil-Essonnes south of the capital, started as it has done the past six years - with Armstrong in the yellow jersey.
Holding a flute of champagne, he toasted teammates as he pedaled into Paris, held up seven fingers, and smiled for the cameras.
He almost had a mishap when three of his teammates slipped and crashed while negotiating a bend shortly before they crossed the River Seine. Riding behind, Armstrong skidded but stayed in his saddle.
Alexandre Vinokourov of Kazakhstan won the stage, beating Australia's Bradley McGee and Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland. Armstrong cruised in safely in the pack, in 118th place.
Having ended his stellar career, Armstrong now wants to drift away from the spotlight.
"I need a period of quiet and peace and privacy," he said. "I've had an unbelievable career. There's no reason to continue. I don't need more."