Cavendish hails 'beautiful' sixth win
Britain's Mark Cavendish hailed his sixth stage win from this year's Tour de France "beautiful" after powering his way to a stunning victory on the world famous Champs Elysées on Sunday.
In doing so the Isle of Man-born rider became the first Tour rider in the post-War era to win six stages from a sprint in one edition of the Tour. And that more than made amends for Cavendish missing out on the sprinter's green jersey for the points competition.
Despite Cavendish's winning ride in the shadow of the Arc de Triomphe, Cervelo's Thor Hushovd won the green jersey with 280pts against Cavendish's 270.
A superb lead-out from Columbia team-mate Mark Renshaw gave Cavendish a clear run to the line as he left both Hushovd and Garmin sprinter Tyler Farrar behind.
"The Champs Elysées is a dream for every sprinter in the world: to cross the finish line in view of the Arc de Triomphe with your arms in the air," he said. "It was a beautiful feeling, it was a proud feeling and to win made it even more beautiful. It's one of the most spectacular feelings and it didn't disappoint me.
"I said before the race, winning stages and finishing in Paris were my goals. Yeah, I got a bit excited when I was in the green jersey briefly, but Thor rode well and he deserves to win it. I can't complain, I have six stage victories."
Cavendish and Renshaw were well ahead of third
Cavendish praised the support from his Columbia team, especially Renshaw who made the perfect break in the final straight to cut off an attack from Garmin.
"I am probably the luckiest sprinter on the planet, because I can look at Mark's back wheel with 50kms to go and know I will be delivered at the front 200m from the line," added Cavendish, who now has 10 stage wins from the past two editions.
"Our team puts us there, but Mark's positioning is phenomenal. He rides a bike like he rides a tandem, he knows he has to go through a gap I can also get through. That is the trust I have in him and him in me.
"To come away with first and second on the Champs Elysées makes it all the sweeter."
As the out-spoken bad boy of British sprinting, Cavendish hit the headlines earlier in the Tour having been accused of racism towards the French as well as a heated exchange with Hushovd. He was disqualified from the Tour's 14th stage in Besancon after accusations he tried to force Hushovd into the barriers near the finish, but Cavendish insisted everything is now fine between the pair.
"It's fine, we have always got on well, to fall out over something so silly would not be good," said the 24-year-old. "He is a great guy, we have always got on well and always will.
"I am sure it won't be the last time I have discrepancies with people, but it's always in the heat of the moment with me and I think people know that. When I have time to reflect on it, I know I have been a bit silly."
Cavendish and Thor Hushovd chat during the final stage
Contador jubilant on the Champs Elysées
A jubilant Alberto Contador claimed his second Tour de France yellow jersey on 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 4min 11sec 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.
As Britain's Mark Cavendish claimed a remarkable sixth stage win, his first on the Champs Elysées and his 10th from the past two editions, Contador threw his arms in the air in triumph. The Spaniard 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.
Andy Schleck (2nd), Alberto Contador (1st) and Lance Armstrong (3rd) - final Tour podium
Alberto Contador on the podium after his second Tour victory
"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 Arcalís 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 organisers - 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.
Brad Wiggins (R) and compatriot David Millar (L) ride side by side during the last stage
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."
Jersey winners Schleck, Pellizotti and Contador
Italian Franco Pellizotti of Liquigas finished as the 'King of the Mountains', having won the polka dot jersey awarded to the best climber.
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 can 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 team for 2010, RadioShack.
Alberto Contador factfile
Name: Alberto Contador
Date of birth: December 6, 1982
Place of birth: Madrid
Height: 1.76 m
Weight: 61 kg
Teams: ONCE (2003), Liberty (2004-2006), Discovery Channel (2007), Astana (2008 and 2009)
Tour de France: 2009, 2007 (and best young rider). Three stage wins (Plateau de Beille 2007, Verbier and Annecy time trial 2009)
Tour of Italy: 2008
Tour of Spain: 2008. Two stage wins (Angliru, Fuentes de Invierno).
Paris-Nice 2007, Tour of the Basque Country 2008 and 2009
Catalan cycling week 2005, Tour of Castilla and Leon 2007 and 2008, Tour of the Algarve 2009
Spanish time trial championship 2009
© AFP 2009
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