Alberto Contador crowned Tour de France champion

Daniele Bennati made the most of the Tour de France by adding a sprinters' dream win on the...

Daniele Bennati kicks Champs-Élysées for second Tour win

Daniele Bennati made the most of the Tour de France by adding a sprinters' dream win on the Champs-Élysées to his first stage win in Castelsarrasin on the final stage of the 2007 Tour de France. 'Benna' took the lead in the sprint early but was able to hold off a strong charge from Thor Hushovd (Crédit Agricole) and Erik Zabel (Milram).

The 26 year-old Italian followed the Quick.Step-Innergetic lead-out train down the Rue de Rivoli to the Avenue des Champs Élysées, and was left in the best position possible behind Tom Boonen's lead-out man Sébastien Rosseler. The Belgian pulled off with 300 metres to go, but Bennati was able to hold his acceleration to distance Hushovd and Zabel. Barloworld's Robert Hunter made an impressive acceleration to take fourth place, salvaging his second in the points classification with the 24 points gained.

"I still don't believe that I have won this great sprint," said Bennati after crossing the line. "As far as I am concerned it is a dream. As soon as I raised my arms I saw the Arc de Triomphe ahead of me, I had goose bumps right away. There were tears... It was the most beautiful win for me.

"It was long and hard for me to conquer. The 200 metres were so long over the cobbles but I had a huge sprint."

Young and yellow

Alberto 'Kid' Contador of Discovery Channel enjoyed the cloudy and damp Parisian day riding in the maillot jaune which he easily kept after ending yesterday's time trial with 23 seconds on Cadel Evans (Predictor-Lotto) and 31 seconds on team-mate Levi Leipheimer. The 24 year-old Spaniard rode into Paris without a final challenge from Cadel Evans' Predictor-Lotto team to his small GC advantage; it was a gap that proved enough for him to be crowned king of the world's largest bike race.

"I want to celebrate it and to have parties, then go on holidays, enjoying this first win," commented Contador on the overall win. He came back from a near-death brain clot to capture the greatest cycle race. "I could not image when I was there [in the hospital] that today I would be here with all these people watching me and with these results."

Not only did Contador take home the prize of best overall rider after 3,569.9 kilometres of racing but also he showed he will be around for a few years by winning the maillot blanc of the best young rider. The next best rider was Soler at 16 minutes back. Bruyneel suggested before the Tour started that he should go for the young rider classification but he proved that he was out for more with his response.

"A week before the Tour I scanned the rivals for the Tour's white jersey and sent him an e-mail with names like Gerdemann and Dekker," explained Discovery Team Manager Bruyneel. "He answered, 'I hope my rivals will be Valverde and Evans.'"

Boonen's green dream

Tom Boonen's (Quickstep-Innergetic) dream of winning the maillot vert of best sprinter was finally achieved when he crossed the line fifth on the Champs-Élysées finish. The 26 year-old Belgian from Mol has worn the green jersey before but never taken it home in Paris. In fact, he only made it to Paris at all once before, in 2004. That year he won two stages including the final romp on the Champs-Élysées, but his inability to haul his huge body over the mountains spelled the end of his hopes for green. He won another two stages in 2005 but pulled out midway through with a knee injury. 2006 was winless for Boonen, and while he had consolation in the three days he spent in the maillot jaune, he still couldn't make it to Paris. Today was different.

Boonen took the maillot vert of best overall sprinter of the 2007 Tour de France on stage two, and only let it go to allow Milram's seasoned veteran Erik Zabel the opportunity to wear it for old times' sake. The green jersey will now go into his treasure chest along side the 2005 World Champion's jersey and add to his rock star status in Belgium as winner of Ronde van Vlaanderen in 2005 and 2006.

"I did not go for the victory because the last two weeks I have been going for the stages. Not today because I did not want to have a crash and lose my green on the stones," stated Boonen in the green sprinter's jersey. "I stayed in the neighbourhood of Zabel and Hunter. If you stay near them, you know that you cannot win the stage but it is more important to have the green.

"My legs were good but here I was tired after the fight over two weeks."

Boonen's major competitor for the green jersey should have been three time points competition winner Robbie McEwen (Predictor-Lotto), but the Australian, winner of stage one to Canterbury, left the race after missing the time cut on stage eight. Boonen's closest competition instead came in the surprise form of Barloworld's Robert Hunter, the winner of stage 11. 2005's green jersey Hushovd finished the race, but only managed 186 (to Boonen's 256) points and second in the final sprint that he won in 2006.

Evans raises Australian status

Evans would have had to fight for a time gap on Contador to make his yellow quest a possibility, however, the last day is into Paris is typically ruled by the sprinters' teams and Contador's Discovery soldiers would have quashed any attempt for freedom had one been tried.

It was the highest ever placing by an Australian in Paris at the end of the three week test. Prior to Evans' fifth in 2006, there was the fifth of Phil Anderson in 1982 and 1985.

"It was very special to stand on the podium," added Evans to Cyclingnews' John Trevorrow. "I can't really come to terms with it yet; it is so huge. I felt numb up there on the podium. It will take about a week for this to settle down and for me to appreciate what happened."

Disco dominates

Levi Leipheimer rode the best Tour of his life and added to Discovery Channel's haul at the Tour. The American came close to stealing the Tour overall when he blasted to yesterday's time trial win and closed to within eight seconds of Evans and 31 from the overall win. The ride garnered him his first-ever stage win at the Tour while adding to Discovery's earlier stage victory with Contador on the Plateau de Beille and its overall win in the team's classification.

Doping clouds Grand Boucle

Despite a sunny, warm welcome to the Tour in London on July 6th, a black storm cloud of doping scandal was brewing even before the race began, and it hit the Tour with its first clap of thunder with news of a positive doping control from T-Mobile's Patrik Sinkewitz on July 18th. Sinkewitz had already crashed out of the Tour, and the positive sample came from before the Tour started, but the Tour organisers criticised the UCI for making the results known only after the Tour had started.

That first bit of news was only a warning shot, and the real barrage hit the Tour on July 24th when it was announced that Astana's battered Kazakh, Alexandre Vinokourov, who had thrilled fans with double stage victories after battling back from serious crash injuries, had tested positive for homologous blood transfusions. Astana was then invited to exit from the Tour, and they did, taking GC hopeful Andreas Klöden with them.

The gale-force winds of doping controversy continued to buffet the Tour the very next day when another positive control was announced. Cofidis' Cristian Moreni embarrassed his vocally antidoping team by testing positive for testosterone, and the team packed up and left in disgrace. But those rumblings were nothing compared with what came out the next morning. The race's own maillot jaune, Michael Rasmussen, was withdrawn from the race by his own Rabobank team over his failure to inform antidoping authorities of his correct whereabouts prior to the Tour.

However, nothing can stop the power and popularity of the Tour, and the riders, fans and race organisers pushed through the difficulties despite an undercurrent of rumblings about new yellow jersey Alberto Contador and mountains classification winner Mauricio Soler (Barloworld), rumours which the Tour director, Christian Prudhomme, himself had to quash.

Youth dominates the Tour

Alberto Contador took home his first Tour win at just 24 years of age, but he wasn't the only young rider to stand on a podium in Paris. Both Contador and king of the mountains Mauricio Soler already had their jerseys, so the young Basque rider Amets Txurruka (Euskaltel-Euskadi), who was third behind the Contador and Soler in the best young rider classification, wore the maillot blanc on the jersey podium. Txurruka was also awarded the overall Prix de la Combativite for most aggressive rider. Together, the three made green jersey winner Tom Boonen seem old at the ripe age of 26.

How it unfolded

The Tour's final day began at a very relaxed pace, with the141 remaining riders enjoying the traditional procession until they hit the outskirts of Paris. The early part of the stage saw the riders cross the final two climbs of the race, the Côte de Saint-Rémy-les-Chevreuse and the Côte de Châteaufort. Both were category four and came 51 and 54.5 kilometres after the start.

Juan Mauricio Soler (Barloworld) was already certain of victory in the mountains classification and so that fact combined with the light-hearted atmosphere meant that it was perhaps unsurprising that the riders didn't take those hills very seriously. Known non-climber Gert Steegmans (Quickstep-Innergetic) was first over the top of both, with Thomas Lövkvist (Française Des Jeux) and Frederik Willems (Liquigas) second and third on the first and Michael Albasini (Liquigas) and Yaroslav Popovych (Discovery) the runners-up on the second.

The peloton ambled onwards and approached the first of two intermediate sprints, situated at Chatenay-Malabry, the location of the French antidoping lab. Maillot jaune Alberto Contador (Discovery Channel) had started the day just 23 seconds clear of Levi Leipheimer (Predictor Lotto) who was in turn just eight seconds ahead of Contador's team-mate Levi Leipheimer. Mathematically it was still possible for Evans to win and also for Leipheimer to overtake him for second, and so this could have made the outcome of the intermediate sprints [which offered bonuses of six, four and two seconds] an interesting one. So too the fact that the green jersey competition was yet to be decided.

However the contenders in each of those two classifications decided to hold back on the first intermediate sprint, which came some 74 kilometres after the start. Instead, Boonen's team-mates Carlos Barredo and Steven de Jongh moseyed clear of the bunch to soak up the points and while they were passed by a stealth-like Lilian Jegou (Française des Jeux) just before the line, they were happy that the first possible threat to Boonen's points classification lead was averted.

The riders continued on towards Paris, passing the offices of the Tour organisers, the ASO, in Issy les Moulineaux. With approximately 60 kilometres to go the mood and pace changed, with the Discovery Channel riders moving to the front and ramping up the speed. The team led the peloton up the Seine and past the Eiffel tower, then headed over the Grenelle Bridge, along the Rue de Rivoli, onto the Place de la Concorde and then over the finish line for the first of eight complete laps.

George Hincapie and the rest of the team led the peloton across the line and, with 52 kilometres to go, the racing really started in earnest. The bunch headed up the road towards the Arc de Triomphe, then rounded the 180 degree bend and accelerated down the other side of the Champs Elysées. With 48 kilometres to go Agritubel rider Freddy Bichot attacked and had a 15 second lead when he finished that first lap. Several riders tried to get clear in the hope of joining up with him but the peloton covered all the moves, then gobbled the lone Frenchman on the fast run down towards the Place de la Concorde. Vicente Garcia Acosta (Caisse d'Epargne) and Marcus Burghardt (T-Mobile) then tried their luck but were unable to break the elastic.

With 40 kilometres to go Murilo Fisher (Liquigas) and Christian Knees (Milram) gave it a go and managed to slip away. Australian Ag2r Prévoyance rider Simon Gerrans set off in pursuit and others then joined up to make it a ten man break. The remainder of the move was made up of Jose Ivan Gutierrez, Nicolas Portal (both Caisse d'Epargne), Ronny Scholz (Gerolsteiner), Alessandro Ballan (Lampre-Fondital), Juan Antonio Flecha (Rabobank), Mickael Delage (Francaise Des Jeux) and Anthony Charteau (Credit Agricole).

On the third lap of the finishing circuit Gerrans took the final intermediate sprint ahead of Ballan and Portal. The ten riders continued to work well together and with 34 kilometres to go they had an advantage of 27" over the peloton. The bunch was led by the Barloworld riders who were keen to set up Robert Hunter for both a stage win and a possible shot at the green jersey. However, despite their driving, the break continued to pull ahead. With 25 kilometres remaining the gap was 37 seconds and then three kilometres later this reached its maximum of 45 seconds. It stayed around this mark for several clicks but then the pendulum swung the other way as the Crédit Agricole team of last year's Paris stage winner Thor Hushovd joined the chase.

Gerrans and Ballan were amongst the most active but as the pursuit accelerated behind, the break's efforts started to become less co-ordinated. The gap dropped to 35 seconds with 18 kilometres remaining; a few splatters of rain fell but fortunately the threat of showers held off. At the ten kilometre go to point the ten riders were just twenty seconds ahead and this gap then fell more rapidly as the break started to lose hope.

Flecha had been sitting on, feigning tiredness in a bid to get out of doing his share of the work, but his trickery was exposed when he and Gutierrez attacked with eight kilometres to go. However, despite some strong driving from the Rabobank rider the duo were caught with six kilometres remaining. From that point on the sprinters teams turned on the gas to prevent any further riders trying to go clear. Lampre were very prominent, then with a kilometre to the finish Crédit Agricole hit the front to set Hushovd up for what they hoped would be his second win here in a row. Like the Norwegian, maillot vert rivals Boonen, Hunter and Zabel manoeuvred themselves into position but it was Daniele Benatti who was the quickest, exploding off the front of the peloton and hitting the line just ahead of Hushovd.

Zabel had been trying to get the best of Boonen throughout the Tour but the Belgian was more consistent in the sprints, thus explaining their third and first place overall in the points classification. However, the German was quicker today, finishing ahead of Hunter and Boonen and placing third, but that wasn't enough to see him take the maillot vert. Boonen netted points for fifth and finishing 22 ahead of the South African and 24 up on Zabel.

Sébastien Chavanel (Française des Jeux) was best placed Frenchman in sixth, with Fabian Cancellara (Team CSC) and David Millar (Saunier Duval – Prodir) showing good sprinting speed in placing seventh and eighth. However many eyes were focussed further back in the field, where Alberto Contador was rolling across the line with his arms in the air. He finished right behind closest rival Cadel Evans (Predictor Lotto) and just ahead of team-mate Levi Leipheimer, winning the Tour de France at just 24 years of age. Evans took the best ever Australian result in placing second, and Leipheimer landed his best Tour result with third.

Carlos Sastre (CSC), Haimar Zubeldia (Euskaltel Euskadi) and Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne) were fourth, fifth and sixth. Contador's dominant ride also saw him land the white jersey while his Discovery Channel squad beat Caisse d'Epargne in the team classification. The King of the Mountains award went to Juan Mauricio Soler, who continued an old Colombian tradition of coming to France and shining on the climbs. As for the most aggressive rider award, that went to the promising Euskaltel – Euskadi youngster Amets Txurruka.

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