(Photo: Roberto Bettini)
A jubilant Alberto Contador claimed his second Tour de France yellow jersey here Sunday to hand Spain their fourth consecutive victory in the world's biggest bike race. Astana team leader Contador, the 2007 champion, finished the 21-stage race with a significant winning margin to add to the victories of Oscar Pereiro in 2006 and Carlos Sastre last year.
Luxembourg's Andy Schleck was the runner-up at 4:11 while seven-time champion Lance Armstrong, returning to the Tour for the first time since 2005, was third at 5:24. Contador, 26, finished the 21st and final stage into Paris wearing the yellow jersey he claimed back on stage 15 at Verbier in the Swiss Alps. He also won the 18th stage time trial, a victory, which gave him an unassailable lead before the penultimate stage to the legendary Mont Ventoux where his rivals failed to loosen his grip on the lead.
Cavendish takes his sixth stage win Paris
(Photo: Roberto Bettini)
As Britain's Mark Cavendish claimed a remarkable sixth stage win, his first on the Champs Elysees and his 10th from the past two editions, Contador threw his arms in the air in triumph. The Spaniard, who first won the race in 2007, and since then he has shown his class by winning the Tour of Italy and the Tour of Spain - winning both races in 2008 when his team were not invited to the Tour de France. "There was always a risk I could lose right up until the end, but I held on," said Contador. "The Tour is the hardest race in the world, but this year it was particularly difficult. That's why I am so happy."
After a quiet start to the race during which Astana teammate Armstrong came close to taking command, Contador moved up a gear once the action moved to the mountains. He distanced most of his rivals, including Armstrong, on the first summit finish to Arcalis in the Pyrenees on stage seven and then won the second summit finish at Verbier to pull on the yellow jersey. After some thrilling stages in the Alps, where Schleck proved his only worthy rival, Contador continued to dominate before ending any doubts over his superiority by defiantly winning the second time trial.
There was suspense right up to Saturday's penultimate stage but sadly for the organizers, who had hoped the yellow jersey battle would end there, it was all about the podium places. On Saturday Armstrong did enough to hold on to a third place, which was under threat from Britain's Bradley Wiggins, who finished fourth.
Norwegian Thor Hushovd meanwhile did enough at the finish to keep the sprinters' green jersey for the points competition, emulating his feat of 2005. Hushovd and the rest of the sprint field were well beaten in the battle for the stage, but the Norwegian had bigger objectives. "I started this morning with one aim, to keep this green jersey," said Hushovd, who finished with 280 points, 10 more than Cavendish. "I battled throughout the race to win this jersey. I didn't want to take any risks in the final sprint."
Contador celebrates on the road to Paris
(Photo: Roberto Bettini)
Schleck, the only rider to really threaten Contador, capped his superb second place finish by securing the white jersey for the best placed rider aged 25 and under for the second consecutive year. Racing in the Saxo Bank team with older brother Frank, Andy has been tipped as a future Tour de France winner and will likely be a key player next year when he faces Contador and Armstrong, who will race for different teams. Schleck, who finished runner-up in the 2007 Giro d'Italia, said: "I owe part of this achievement to my brother Frank, who for three weeks sacrificed himself trying to help me."
Having ended his three-and-a-half year retirement in January 2009, the 37-year-old Armstrong proved he could still cut it in the peloton by dominating a host of younger rivals to claim a deserved podium place. However the already slim chances of him and Contador racing for the same outfit were buried on Saturday when the Spaniard said he would not race with Armstrong in his new RadioShack team for 2010,
Stage 21: July 26, Montereau to Fault-Yonne to Paris 164km
1. Mark Cavendish (IDM/ Columbia-HTC) 4hr 02min 18sec (40.611 km/h)
2. Mark Renshaw (AUS/ Columbia-HTC) @ s.t.
3. Tyler Farrar (USA/ Garmin-Slipstream)
4. Gerald Ciolek (GER/Milram)
5. Yauheni Hutarovich (BLR/ Française des Jeux)
6. Thor Hushovd (NOR/Cervélo TestTeam)
7. José Joaquin Rojas (ESP/ Caisse d'Epargne)
8. Marco Bandiera (ITA/Lampre)
9. Daniele Bennati (ITA/ Liquigas)
10. William Bonnet (FRA/ Bbox Bouygues Telecom)
Final Overall Classification
1. Alberto Contador (SPA/Astana) 85hr 48min 35sec
2. Andy Schleck (LUX/Saxo Bank) @ 4:11
3. Lance Armstrong (USA/Astana) @ 5:24
4. Bradley Wiggins (GBR/Garmin-Slipstream) @ 6:01
5. Frank Schleck (LUX/Saxo Bank) @ 6:04
6. Andreas Kloden (GER/Astana) @ 6:42
7. Vincenzo Nibali (ITA/Liquigas) @ 7:35
8. Christian Vande Velde (USA/Garmin-Slipstream) @ 12:04
9. Roman Kreuziger (CZE/Liquigas) @ 14:16
10. Christophe Le Mevel (FRA/Française des Jeux) @ 14:25
Green Jersey: Thor Hushovd (NOR/Cervélo TestTeam)
Polka Dot Jersey: Franco Pellizotti (ITA/Liquigas)
White Jersey: Andy Schleck (LUX/Saxo Bank)