Contador shows Armstrong how to win the Tour
Alberto Contador came into this year's Tour de France knowing he faced more than just a race for the yellow jersey.
On Saturday the Spaniard virtually assured his second yellow jersey with a huge lead over his rivals, showing seven-time champion Lance Armstrong, his teammate at Astana, he is now stage racing's undisputed champion.
Having won the 2007 Tour Contador underlined his class by winning both the Tour of Italy and the Tour of Spain in 2008 when Astana were not invited to the world's biggest bike race. So when Armstrong decided to end his three-and-a-half year retirement last year and join Astana, it led to an awkward co-habitation that led to some stressful moments, mainly for Contador, throughout this year's campaign.
Contador said however the presence of Armstrong - who is said to benefit from the unstinting support of team manager Johan Bruyneel - had simply pushed him to prove that he was the best.
"I knew he was coming here to win but so was I," said the Spaniard, who has a lead of 4:11 and 5:24 on Andy Schleck and Armstrong respectively ahead of Sunday's 21st and final stage into Paris. "It wasn't really a compatible situation, but I had prepared myself physically very well and I knew that in the end that my performances would speak for themselves."
While Armstrong provided drama by showing his ambitions in the first week, just missing out on the yellow jersey after the stage four team time trial by 0.22secs, when the race headed upwards Contador came into his own.
Considered the world's best climber, Armstrong - and the rest of Contador's rivals - could only look on in awe when he waited patiently before flying off towards the race's first two summit finishes.
At Arcalís in the Pyrenees on stage seven he defied Bruyneel's orders to leave everyone in his wake to jump over Armstrong into second place, at 6secs behind Italian Rinaldo Nocentini.
"This was a really tough Tour mentally," said Contador, who admitted the tension in the team was hard to deal with after stage seven. "Without doubt, the most difficult day for me psychologically was the day after Andorra."
On the second summit finish in stage 15 Contador again showed his class, dancing away from his rivals early on the 8.8km climb to Verbier in Switzerland to claim the stage win and pull on the yellow jersey.
It was more than a symbolic performance and it left Armstrong with no doubts as to who the best rider in the team was.
"I think after today he demonstrated he is the strongest in the race. I thought I'd feel a little bit better, I didn't," said the American, who lost 1:35 to Contador. "I gave everything I had and I wasn't the best."
Contador follows Armstrong in the mountains
On the final day in the Alps on stage 17 Contador again shook off his potential rivals, but in doing the Spaniard perhaps prevented teammate Andreas Klöden from allowing Astana to claim a podium sweep in Paris. He attacked with the Schleck brothers Andy and Frank, and their lead on Armstrong and Klöden reinforced Andy's second place overall.
But one day later Contador removed any lingering doubt as to his intentions by winning the final time trial in Annecy.
Ahead of Saturday's climb to the third and last summit finish at the legendary Mont Ventoux, it gave him a lead of 4:11 on Schleck and 5:24 on Armstrong.
Contador's campaign proved far trickier than the one which led to victory in 2007, arguably one of the most distorted Tour de France editions in the past decade. Two years ago Contador was handed the yellow jersey late in the race after Denmark's Michael Rasmussen, who was suspected of doping, was ejected - but not before his stunning performances in the high mountains had dropped a number of top rivals, barring Contador.
The Spaniard admitted that in this year's race, a fair degree of mental strength was also involved.
"Both victories were difficult. In 2007 it was more of a physical effort because I had to try and win the yellow jersey with the penultimate stage time trial," added Contador, who beat Australian Cadel Evans by just 23secs. "This year I have a much bigger advantage but I've had to put a lot more mentally into the race."
Alluding to the tension created by Armstrong's presence in the team, Contador added: "The situation in the team before the Tour wasn't perfect.
"But for me it simply made me want to win the Tour even more. I used them all as extra motivation, and in the end I've achieved my goal.
"Psychologically, it was a difficult Tour. But every day I was telling myself there is just one more day to go."
Armstrong prefers Team Radioshack to Contador
Lance Armstrong admitted on Sunday he did not celebrate team-mate Alberto Contador's Tour de France triumph, preferring instead to go for drinks with the backers of his future outfit, Team Radioshack.
The 37-year-old finished third overall after Sunday's 21st and final stage at 5:24 behind Contador who built an unassailable lead after Saturday's climb up to Mont Ventoux and rode to Paris in the yellow jersey.
But rather than dine with his Astana team-mates on Saturday night to celebrate Contador's victory, seven-time champion Armstrong said he dined elsewhere.
"To be honest, I went out for dinner with the Radioshack guys and I had a few extra glasses of wine than I would have normally done," said Armstrong when asked about Astana's celebrations after the team won the yellow jersey.
Much has been made of the pair's rivalry with Contador going into this year's race as team leader then letting his cycling speak for itself by claiming a second yellow jersey.
Armstrong is set to return to next year's race with Team Radioshack, who announced the new venture on Thursday. Having won the last of his seven Tour titles in 2005, Armstrong was in contention to pull on the yellow jersey early in the race.
He was in the general classification's top five since the third stage but was made to work for his third place in the race's final days after late challenges from Garmin's Bradley Wiggins and Saxo Bank's Frank Schleck.
Both his rivals Andy Schleck, who finished second overall, and Contador showed their strength in the Pyrenees and Alps leaving Armstrong with no complaints.
"I came here to do my best and I came across some guys who were clearly better than me," he said. "I don't have any regrets, I got put out a couple of times, but considering my age and recent racing, it's not a bad performance overall."
The Texan rode the Champs Elysées here on a bike covered with hundreds of dead butterflies after being customised by British artist Damien Hirst. Hirst was invited to adapt the bike which will be auctioned to raise money for the Lance Armstrong Foundation in the fight against cancer.
"Damien Hirst designed the bike and he's arguably one of the best living contemporary artists," said Armstrong. "I am a collector of his stuff and he agreed to do the bike for me.
"All the bikes I have ridden this year from the Tour of California to the Giro d'Italia to here are being auctioned off for the foundation. When that bike sells it is sure to be one of the most expensive bikes ever sold."
And Armstrong said he was ready for a break now.
"I am ready to go home, it's been a long three weeks as usual," he said. "It's stressful and there are a lot of commitments outside of riding the bike race. I am ready to go on vacation for sure."
Contador hands Spain a 12th Tour crown
Contador flying the Spanish champion's colours on his time trial helmet
Alberto Contador took Spain's tally to 12 wins in 96 editions of the Tour de France when he wrapped up his second victory on the race here on Sunday.
Reputed climber Federico Bahamontes, nicknamed the 'Eagle of Toledo', broke new ground for his countrymen by winning the race in 1959 after years of domination by the French, the Italians and Belgians.
Following in Bahamontes' trail, albeit 14 years later was the great Luis Ocana, who claimed his only win in 1973 in an era dominated by Belgian great Eddy Merckx.
It took another 15 years for Spain to hail a winner, in the shape of Pedro Delgado, in 1988.
Only three years later, in 1991, Miguel Indurain showed a pioneering streak by crushing his rivals in the race's time trials while proving solid in the mountains stages. Those skills allowed him to become the first five-time consecutive winner, his reign lasting until halfway through the 1996 race.
It took another 11 years for Spain to hail a new yellow jersey champion, and it came in controversial fashion. Spaniard Oscar Pereiro finished second in the 2006 race, but was proclaimed champion a year later when American Floyd Landis, who tested positive for testosterone during the race's stage 17, was officially disqualified.
Similarly, Alberto Contador claimed his first Tour victory in 2007 when he inherited the yellow jersey late in the race after Denmark's race leader Michael Rasmussen was ejected for suspected doping. Contador secured his first Tour de France triumph in the penultimate stage time trial to beat Australia's Cadel Evans by 23secs.
In 2008 another Spaniard triumphed, and again Evans was the runner-up when Carlos Sastre, then riding for the CSC team, claimed his first victory in the race.
After missing the race in 2008 because Astana were not invited Contador started as the pre-race favourite in 2009 and, despite the presence of cycling icon Lance Armstrong in his team the Spaniard was a class above the rest.
Wins by country after 96 editions
10: United States
2: Netherlands, Switzerland
1: Germany, Denmark, Ireland
Tour stage winners and yellow jerseys
A list of stage winners and yellow jersey wearers from the 96th edition of the Tour de France which ended in Paris on Sunday:
Stage 1: Fabian Cancellara (Swi)/Fabian Cancellara (Swi)
Stage 2: Mark Cavendish (GBr)/Fabian Cancellara (Swi)
Stage 3: Mark Cavendish (GBr)/Fabian Cancellara (Swi)
Stage 4: Astana (Kaz)/Fabian Cancellara (Swi)
Stage 5: Thomas Voeckler (Fra)/Fabian Cancellara (Swi)
Stage 6: Thor Hushovd (Nor)/Fabian Cancellara (Swi)
Stage 7: Brice Feillu (Fra)/Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita)
Stage 8: Luis Leon Sanchez (Eps)/Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita)
Stage 9: Pierrick Fedrigo (Fra)/Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita)
Stage 10: Mark Cavendish (GBr)/Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita)
Stage 11: Mark Cavendish (GBr)/Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita)
Stage 12: Nicki Sorensen (Den)/Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita)
Stage 13: Heinrich Haussler (Ger)/Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita)
Stage 14: Serguei Ivanov (Rus)/Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita)
Stage 15: Alberto Contador (Spa)/Alberto Contador (Spa)
Stage 16: Mikel Astarloza (Spa)/Alberto Contador (Spa)
Stage 17: Frank Schleck (Lux)/Alberto Contador (Spa)
Stage 18: Alberto Contador (Spa)/Alberto Contador (Spa)
Stage 19: Mark Cavendish (GBr)/Alberto Contador (Spa)
Stage 20: Juan Manuel Garate (Spa)/Alberto Contador (Spa)
Stage 21: Mark Cavendish (GBr)/Alberto Contador (Spa)
© AFP 2009
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