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A look at the school, the races and the future of this unique 'sport'
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Mission accomplished: Alberto Contador keeps yellow and helps teammate Lance Armstrong.
Talent, turmoil and triumph at the Tour de France
Alberto Contador effectively sealed his second Tour de France win on Saturday with a strong, calculated ride on the Mont Ventoux stage of this year's race. He coped with all the attacks of closest rival Andy Schleck and, barring accident, will stand on top of the podium today in Paris. Cyclingnews' Shane Stokes reports.
The 2009 Tour de France will be Alberto Contador's fourth consecutive Grand Tour victory and, if you consider each of them, it's also his most important to date.
Each triumph has had been marked by its own distinctive characteristic. In 2007 he won his first Tour de France as the only rider capable of taking the fight to a rampant Michael Rasmussen, who was later ejected from the race. In 2008 he went to the Giro d'Italia with very little notice, gradually riding himself into form and taking a narrow victory that owed huge amounts to stubbornness and determination. Later that year, he started the Vuelta a España as the clear favourite, coping well with that pressure and the call of history. In Spain he had, and took, the chance to beat Bernhard Hinault's record as quickest ever to take all three Grand Tours.
Yet the 2009 Tour will be the best yet, for a number of reasons. Firstly, in winning this year's Tour he will extend his unbeaten streak to four consecutive Grand Tours, and all in the space of two years. Secondly, this victory will come as part of dominant season where he won the Volta ao Algarve in February, took two stages and fourth overall in Paris-Nice in March, and won the Vuelta a Pais Vasco in April. Then, following a break from competition, he came back and finished third in the Dauphiné in June. Nobody can accuse him of focussing only on the Tour de France.
Another distinctive aspect of this Tour has been Contador's ability to overcome the pressure he faced this year, both as race favourite and the tension caused by the close relationship between Lance Armstrong and team manager Johan Bruyneel. Contrary to what the team said, there were subtle signs before and during the Tour that all was not equal; think back to Paris-Nice, and the comments from both after he lost the race lead there, or the sniping and faulting of him during this year's Tour.
Perhaps the most revealing factor of Contador's triumph this year is the manner of his win. From his performances against the clock in Monaco and Annecy to his dominance in the mountains at Andorra Arcalis and Verbier, he gave the impression that if he had to, if he really had to, he could have taken far more time out of his rivals. Contador may look at times like a shy kid, appearing a little lost at the back of the Astana train, but there's a considerable strength of character within the 26-year-old. Otherwise, he simply couldn't have taken on a psychologically-dominating seven-time Tour winner from within his own team and come out on top.