PARIS: It was a more laid-back Lance Armstrong who arrived at this year's Tour de France hoping to overtake the four other riders who had, like him, won the world's most famous race five times.
And despite the shadow of doping allegations in a controversial new book hanging over the 32-year-old, Armstrong left the Tour with a smile on his face after claiming an unprecedented sixth yellow jersey.
For some, Armstrong's improved demeanour this year has been down to one thing - his blossoming relationship with American pop singer Sheryl Crow.
After his recent divorce from his wife Kristin – the mother of his three kids who met him when he was recovering from cancer – his new-found love seems to have done wonders to a man who can often appear hostile and distant.
This year, the pressure of winning the race – never mind setting a new victory record – did not seem to bother Armstrong as he spent several days at the side of Crow.
Armstrong admitted, without making reference to Crow, that he was enjoying racing more than any other year.
“This is probably the funniest year I've had racing bikes. I was able to do some things a little bit differently, race in America as well as racing in Europe – even contest a sprint which I haven't done for a long time,” said the American.
“And for some reason I can't explain, I'm enjoying the competition more than ever. Not to make history, not to make money – just for the thrill of getting on a bike and racing 200 other guys.
“At 33 (32) years-old and 12 or 13 years I'm having more fun racing a bike than ever,” added Armstrong, who admitted that his heavy work load for the Tour has not stopped him enjoying himself.
“I still enjoy life. There are plenty of moments we can let our hair down.”
Armstrong's story is probably one of the most remarkable in sport. Not because he has won the Tour a record six times, but because he managed to recover from cancer in 1998 and win the Tour a year later, in 1999.
Last year, on his record-equalling fifth victory, the Texan himself put things into perspective.
“Regardless of having one, two, four victories – however many. There's never been a victory by a cancer survivor.
This is a fact that hopefully I'll be remembered for.”
Ironically, whether Armstrong would have ever won the Tour if he had not succumbed to the disease – which ravaged his brain, testicles and lungs with cancerous tumours –is a question that is still being asked.
However what is not in question is Armstrong's inherent determination to win, which first became evident in his youth when he became a professional triathlete at the tender age of 16.
From Motorola's early days, to signing a contract with the French Cofidis team –which didn't work out after he contracted cancer –Armstrong's name seems to have become synonymous with success. – AFP