Alberto Contador sealed his third Tour de France title in four years yesterday after avoiding mishaps on the ride into Paris.
The Spaniard preserved his 39-second lead over Luxembourg’s Andy Schleck after the 64-mile journey to the Champs Elysees. Riders don’t normally compete for the race-leading yellow jersey on the final day. Mark Cavendish of the U.K. won the 20th stage as Lance Armstrong completed his 13th and final Tour de France.
Contador joins Greg LeMond of the U.S., France’s Louison Bobet and Belgium’s Philippe Thys in winning cycling’s most prestigious race three times. Only five riders have won it more.
“I’m very happy, there were moments when I was in trouble, psychologically and physically,” Contador, 27, said yesterday. “I wasn’t in top form on some days, and on those days I thought I would lose the Tour.”
The smallest winning margin was in 1989 when LeMond beat Laurent Fignon of France by 8 seconds. Contador beat Schleck, 25, by 4 minutes, 11 seconds last year.
Denis Menchov of Russia was third, 2 minutes, 1 second behind Contador, with Samuel Sanchez of Spain fourth at 3:40 adrift. Italy’s Alessandro Petacchi took the green jersey as the race’s top sprinter, France’s Anthony Charteau won the King of the Mountains competition for climbers, Schleck won the young riders’ event and Armstrong’s RadioShack won the team prize.
Record seven-time champion Armstrong finished 23rd overall yesterday as he bowed out for a second time from the race he once dominated. He’d said he was retiring after the 2005 edition.
Cavendish’s victory yesterday was his second straight on the Champs Elysees, and his fifth in this year’s Tour. He’s won 15 stages at the event in his career.
Contador took the overall race lead on July 19 when Schleck’s bike chain sprang off on the Port de Bales climb in the Pyrenees, losing him about half a minute. Some fans jeered as the Spaniard put on the yellow jersey after that stage because cyclists sometimes stop when rivals have a crash or mechanical fault. Contador apologized to Schleck the next day.
Contador, who also won the Tour in 2007 and 2009, extended his lead by 31 seconds two days ago in a time trial, a discipline he specializes in.
In 2008, Contador didn’t compete as the Kazakhstan-based Astana team he rides for was barred following doping controversies involving other riders including Alexandre Vinokourov. Contador won the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Espana that year, the other biggest three-week cycling events.
Armstrong, 38, said last week he plans a “very quiet life” after his final Tour. He returned for last year’s race, when he placed third, but this month was hit by three crashes in one day on the first stage in the Alps.
The Texan made a final bid to win a stage last week, though he was outsprinted to the finish line. Cheered on by fans, he had helped drive a breakaway for about five hours over four Pyrenean mountain passes in a flashback to his winning years.