Spain's Alberto Contador, the 24-year-old surprise winner of the Tour de France, received a hero's welcome Monday when he returned to his native Madrid. Hundreds of ecstatic supporters attended a welcome-home party held outside Madrid city hall under bright sunshine.
"He is the first Madrileno to win cycling's most important race," Madrid mayor Esperanza Aguirre said as she handed a smiling Contador a commemorative plaque. "The support of Madrilenos, of the Spanish people, is unanimous."
Riding for the Discovery Channel team, Contador was the first Spaniard to stand on the winner's podium of the Tour since the last of Miguel Indurain's five titles in 1995 and the ninth to win cycling's biggest event since 1959.
"I must thank the French people. They supported me every day. I felt very loved in France," he told AFP.
Many of Contador's friends and neighbours from the town of Pinto, located just outside of Madrid, where he now lives were among the crowd of well wishers. "He is a normal youth, very hardworking, he deserves it," said the mayor of Pinto, Miriam Rabaneda Gudiel. The town will hold its own celebration for Contador on Monday night.
The 94th Tour de France was hit by four doping scandals over its three weeks, including one which led to the forcible exit of Danish race leader Michael Rasmussen, leaving Contador in front with four days left to race.
But supporters in Madrid rejected any suggestion that Contador's victory had been overshadowed by the doping scandals. "Contador won properly. He is a phenomenon, the people are with him," said Felix Perea, a neighbour of Contador's family in Pinto who was part of the crowd which earlier Monday welcomed the cyclist home at Madrid airport.
Spanish media praised Contador's victory, with many newspapers writing that the rider represents the hope of a "new cycling."
"Champion of hope" wrote sports daily AS on its front page below a photo of the cyclist wearing a red and yellow Spanish flag around his neck taken after he won the race on Sunday. "Contador was crowned in Paris as the symbol of the new cycling," it added.
"The triumph of the dream," wrote daily newspaper El Mundo wile rival daily ABC called Contador a "saviour", adding he "had become a reference of the new cycling after the doping scandals.
"I hope my victory will breathe fresh air to cycling," Contador said after the race in comments splashed on the headline of top-selling daily El Pais.
Millar and Zabriskie head for Slipstream
Britain's David Millar and American David Zabriskie will join American team Slipstream next season, sporting director Jonathan Vaughters said on the Cyclingnews website. American Christian Vandevelde, of CSC, will also join the team from 2008, revealed Vaughters who is aiming to have his outfit compete in next year's Tour de France.
All three riders participated in this years Tour which ended on Sunday. Vandevelde claimed the highest position out of the three in 25th place, with Millar in 69th while Zabriskie withdrew on the 11th stage.
The 30-year-old Millar, who is at the end of his contract with Spanish team Saunier Duval, wore the Tour leader's yellow jersey following his victory in the time-trial at Futuroscope in 2000, while 28-year-old Zabriskie followed in Millar's footsteps five years later after the time-trial at Noirmoutier.
© AFP 2007