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DC09

French Both Resent, Admire Armstrong

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PARIS - As Lance Armstrong raced toward unheard-of Tour de France glory, France is torn. Many resent a brash Texan muscling in on their beloved cycling classic. But how can you hate such a champ?

"Face it, the man is amazing," said Sebastian Bizeul, a medical technician. He reflected a broad national sentiment. Of course he'd prefer to see a Frenchman on top, he said. But it's a fair fight.

Barring some mishap, Armstong is expected to win on Sunday, his sixth Tour de France victory in a row. No one has won more than five.

"This stuff about drugs, his aloof manner, his guards, it is all minor if you care about the sport," Bizeul said. "He has worked hard, and he is grand champion. You've got to give it to him."

Henri Leconte, a retired French tennis great, wrote a glowing tribute in the daily Le Monde, calling Armstrong's image of being distant and prickly a fabrication of the media.

"He is, above all, absolutely normal," he wrote. "He is very kind, generous and respectful of others. ... He has his heart in his hand, and his fight against cancer proves it."

And, Leconte added, "He had the decency to learn French. He loves France."

The sentiment is hardly unanimous.

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