07/28/2003 at 01:00 AM EDT
Champagne flowed in Paris Sunday as American cyclist Lance Armstrong won his hardest but sweetest Tour de France title -- a record-tying fifth straight victory that places the 31-year-old cancer survivor alongside the greatest names in the sport's most grueling and prestigious race, the Associated Press reports.
Next year, says Armstrong, he plans to break that record, which he's now sharing with Spanish great Miguel Indurain. Still, admits the Texan (who overcame illness, crashes, equipment failure, dehydration and exhaustion this year): "It's incredible to win again."
The indefatigable Armstrong survived the 23-day, 2,125-mile clockwise slog around France to win by his smallest-ever margin: only 76 seconds over five-time runner-up Jan Ullrich of Germany.
Armstrong, who had never before won by less than six minutes, said his fifth title was "definitely the hardest" but "feels better" than the previous four, when he demoralized rivals by dominating in lung-burning mountain ascents and super-speedy time trials.
But this narrow margin is fueling his eagerness to win in 2004
"The other years I won by six, seven minutes. I think it makes it more exciting and sets up an attempt for number six," he said, looking gaunt after his victory. "Before the Tour started I was very confident about winning. But before next year's Tour, I won't be so confident."