Contador wraps up Tour victory

Winner parts ways with teammate Armstrong after long and uneasy ride

The Associated PressJuly 27, 2009 

  • Sunday's 21st and final stage

    Stage: The final stage was a largely ceremonial 101.9-mile trek from Montereau-Fault-Yonne to the Champs-Elysees in Paris.

    Winner: Mark Cavendish of Britain easily earned his sixth stage win of this year's Tour in a sprint ahead of teammate Mark Renshaw of Australia and American Tyler Farrar.

    Yellow jersey: Alberto Contador took his second Tour de France victory. He finished ahead of Andy Schleck of Luxembourg, who trailed the Spaniard by 4 minutes, 11 seconds. Seven-time winner Lance Armstrong finished third overall, 5:24 behind his Astana teammate.

    Quote of the day: "It has been an especially difficult Tour for me, but I savor it and it is more special because of it," Contador said.

— Lance Armstrong's kids were dressed in yellow. He was not.

When the seven-time Tour de France champion returned to the Tour podium Sunday, his family was there. His fans were there. And so was rival and teammate Alberto Contador -- wearing the coveted and hard-won yellow jersey.

Four years after his seventh Tour win, Armstrong capped his return with an impressive third-place finish. He had his clan on hand -- son Luke; twin girls Grace and Isabelle; his mom, Linda; former wife, Kristin; and his girlfriend, Anna Hansen, with their baby Max, sporting bright yellow shoes.

They were among the massive crowd that poured out onto Paris' most famous avenue for the finish -- Norwegians in Viking helmets, flag-waving Britons and an American in a stars-and-stripes top hat among them.

Contador cruised down the Champs-Elysees to win the Tour for a second time Sunday after 2,141 miles over three weeks of racing. He repelled challenges in the mountains, excelled in the two time-trials -- winning a pivotal race against the clock in the 18th stage -- and won the first Alpine stage.

Andy Schleck of Luxembourg, Contador's toughest rival in the mountains, was second overall.

Contador said his biggest battle, however, was against his own Astana team.

"It has been an especially difficult Tour for me, but I savor it, and it is more special because of it," he said after the prize ceremony.

The body language on the winner's podium said it all.

As Armstrong, 37, climbed onto the stage, he gave a perfunctory handshake to teammate Contador, then heartily grabbed Schleck's hand with both hands.

And as Contador took the victor's bowl, Armstrong cast a long sideways glance at what had long been his spoils; he gave only a cursory glance to his own crystal trophy.

Asked on French TV what the hardest moment in this race, Contador replied: "It was in the [team] hotel," without elaborating.

Only 26 years old, Contador already is one of cycling's greats, having won all three Grand Tours of France, Italy and Spain.

Armstrong's comeback after 31/2 years of retirement raised questions about who would lead Astana during cycling's most prestigious race. Those questions remained through much of the Tour as tensions mounted over who was the No. 1 rider.

On Sunday, Armstrong and Contador shared glasses of champagne on the ride into Paris. But it seemed to be more about keeping up appearances: After a few sips, they tossed away their glasses.

"I'm realistic, I did everything I could," Armstrong said before the final stage. "For me, and even more for my kids, it's probably a healthy thing for them to see, because they saw their dad that never lost, and the kids in their class [say], 'Your dad never loses,' so it's good for them to see Dad get third and still be cool with that and still be happy."

Like Armstrong, who is a cancer survivor, Contador has rebounded from a brush with death.

After persistent headaches, Contador fell in the first stage of the 2004 Vuelta a Asturias race, went to the hospital and learned he had a congenital cerebral vascular disorder, cavernoma. Eight months after the surgery, he won the fifth stage of the 2005 Tour Down Under. Today, the only reminder of that scare is a large scar running down the side of his head.

With Contador's victory Sunday, the Tour has been won by a Spaniard for four straight years -- Oscar Pereiro in 2006, Contador and Carlos Sastre last year.

Contador, who had to sit out last year because Astana was banned because of doping scandals, finished in 85 hours, 48 minutes, 35 seconds.

Schleck, 24, was 4:11 behind. Armstrong was 5:24 back.

Armstrong's future is set. He'll lead a new squad sponsored by RadioShack.

Contador's plans are uncertain. Astana likely will welcome back Alexandre Vinokourov, its former star, after a doping ban. Whether Contador will remain with the team is unknown.

What's clear is Armstrong and Contador are relishing the chance to face off again next year, freed of the need to paper over the obvious cracks in their relationship.

"We are totally incompatible," Contador said. "In the end, Armstrong will go his way, and I'll go mine."

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