PARIS — Outside of Lance Armstrong's hotel room, the familiar strains of the U.S. national anthem played in the distance as Floyd Landis stood on the podium and donned the yellow jersey Armstrong had worn the final Sunday of the Tour de France for the past seven years.
"I feel a lot of pride and joy as an American, as a fan of American cycling. I think I can take a small bit of credit for helping develop Floyd. Not a lot of credit," Armstrong said, "but some credit."
A moment later, he added, "No part of me says, 'Why am I not there?' I'm completely content with my decision and with the way I am."
Wearing a sleeveless T-shirt, camouflage shorts and sneakers, the 35-year-old Texan was just back from a run and looked fit enough to compete in the race he once dominated. Yet telltale signs that those days were over were scattered on every side: from the cold beer and plate of pastries sitting on a table nearby, to the collection of friends who gathered around a TV set and insisted on switching channels in time to watch Tiger Woods win the British Open.
"I would not want to be anywhere other than where I am right now," Armstrong said.
Landis was a member of Armstrong's winning U.S. Postal Service teams from 2002-04, proving his worth in the mountain-climbing stages and time trials.
Though he used those skills to help Armstrong reach the podium all three years, they also marked Landis as someone capable of leading his own team. When contract negotiations hit a skid after the 2004 season, Landis signed with the Swiss Phonak squad he carried to victory.
Both men have said reports of a rift between the two since were exaggerated.
"It's an honor that he was part of our program," Armstrong said. "He took something from it. ... For us it's a bit of a moral victory."
Moral victories are the only ones Armstrong is likely to count in the coming days. He is continuing his advocacy campaign on behalf of cancer survivors and plans to ride some stages at a number of bike races back in the United States. The first one, the Ragbrai, begins next week in Iowa.
As part-owner of the Discovery Channel team that took over sponsorship from USPS, Armstrong plans to stay involved in the Tour de France. But his duties will be limited largely to scouting promising riders.