Alberto Contador (Astana) says he cares not for records, but in taking victory in each of the last four Grand Tours he's ridden, top-and-tailing with the 2007 and 2009 Tours de France and the 2008 Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España in between, he's set a record of his own.
After 3,459.5 kilometres, the maillot jaune crossed Paris' world-famous boulevard of the Champs Élysées with arms hoisted high, and with each hand, two fingers raised. That's right, Alberto, you've done it again.
And it seems this one means more than his first, though perhaps more for cycling than Contador. After a number of problem-plagued years, the 2009 La Grande Boucle was completed without a doping scandal throughout its three weeks - something those truly passionate about this most beautiful of sports needed so badly.
Contador's 97th place Sunday was insignificant, but no so for victor Mark Cavendish (Columbia-HTC), who picked up his sixth win of the race and whose superiority as a "sprinteur" is matched only by his Columbia-HTC team. Sunday in Paris, his superbly-drilled unit - better than the trains of Mario Cipollini, Erik Zabel or Alessandro Petacchi - were so brilliant, his lead-out man Mark Renshaw - believed to be the best in the world at his job - had time not only to look behind, but to claim second by a margin Columbia's rivals would love to win by.
"I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I hadn't won it after they did such a good job," Cavendish told Cyclingnews. Behind the two Columbia-HTC riders, Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Slipstream), Gerald Ciolek (Milram) and lanterne rouge Yauheni Hutarovich (Française des Jeux) were forced into submission, in third to fifth, respectively.
"When we came around that last corner, to be honest, I was sh**ting myself. It was scary, it was tight. But I just followed: if he [Renshaw] thought it was okay, I'd be okay, and we were okay. To cross the line with your hands in the air, in view of the Arc de Triomphe, is one of the most spectacular feelings you're supposed to have, and for sure, it didn't disappoint me today," he said.
A spectacular all-rounder
Contador was not spectacular in the way that he won the 2009 Tour de France. But he was spectacularly consistent in an overall ability that is currently without peer.
As the 26-year-old has already admitted, his closest rival, Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank), did not make any mistakes. "I made the difference in the time trials," said Contador, who, in the 55 kilometres of individual time trialling on offer, gained four minutes and 22 seconds on his fresh-faced adversary, with another 40 seconds gained in the stage 4 team time trial in Montpellier.
Logically speaking, if the younger of the Schleck brothers - two years and six months Contador's junior - doesn't want to end up like the bridesmaid Jan Ullrich became with his five second places, he must improve against the clock. It used to be Contador's Achilles heel, so in theory, there's no reason why Schleck can't do the same. However, there's also the chance that improvement in the "contre-la-montre" may diminish what the Luxembourger has shown to be so good at - attacking without fear in the high mountains. But if he doesn't give it a go, so long as Contador is alive and well, he may never realise the glory of winning the world's greatest bike race.
Contador should also be given due credit for his ability to handle the Astana polemic between him and his next closest competitor, Lance Armstrong, who emanated from within his own team and has trailed him ever since announcing his comeback to the sport.
"This Tour was very, very difficult," he said. "But before coming, I had prepared physically and mentally, because I knew it would be extremely tough."
Throughout this season and, in particular the past three weeks, not once did he openly criticise sport director Johan Bruyneel's seemingly conflicting strategy of having two leaders both vying for the same end goal; Armstrong's change of attitude toward working for the Spaniard at the Tour; or the lack of camaraderie within Astana, where riders seem to be forced to side with one leader or the other.
Contador, for the most part, avoided any speculation that would take his focus away from racing and recovery, and simply did what he knew best: ride his bike faster than any other. After 85 hours, 48 minutes and 35 seconds, finished a sizeable 4:11 ahead of Andy Schleck and 5:24 in front of Armstrong.
"Asked to compare the two Tours he's won, Contador said, "2009 was very difficult physically and mentally; 2007 was just physically difficult. It was tough to cope with because [Armstrong and I] both wanted to win the GC, and that just doesn't make sense; to have two guys who want to win the overall."
One thing is for sure, though. "I'll be on a different team than Lance Armstrong. I have different options - maybe I'll have a team built around me, but I have options. My goal shall remain the Tour de France," Contador said.
Armstrong and Contador, on the same team, fighting for the same goal was intriguing. Next year, Armstrong and Contador on different teams, fighting for the same goal - now that will be compelling.
A deserved maillot vert - and the polka-dot
No one can say Thor Hushovd (Cervelo TestTeam) didn't earn his second maillot vert, fair and square.
In a ding-dong battle with Cavendish, the Norwegian knew his arch-rival was faster and had to call upon all his strength and tactical nous to beat his opponent, who proved unstoppable in a straight line. While Contador was the best all-rounder, one could easily argue Hushovd was the most complete rider. Significantly, he won the sixth stage to Barcelona on a small hilltop finish; he finished sixth on a hilly, rain-soaked day to Colmar won by teammate Heinrich Haussler; and then to secure his lead, Hushovd went on a rampage through the Sallanches countryside on Stage 17, Cavendish's words following the fourteenth stage to Besançon - that he would later eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner - stirred the Thunder God to banish his mighty hammer and end the race with a 10-point margin.
"It would've been mighty, mighty close, looking at the final points without the discrepancy [where he was relegated in Besançon], but it is how it is," said Cavendish.
"I know what it takes to do it, but it's the fact that physically I'm not ready to do what he [Hushovd] has done, to go consistently throughout the stages. But I've got the best teacher with me in Erik Zabel to be able to do that. I think Thor's a special rider - he rode way, way beyond himself to get it. It was a special ride. I think it was a once-in-a-decade ride to get that green jersey. For sure, I won't be able to do what he's done, but I can win the green in the future in my own little way."
As for mountains champion Franco Pellizotti of Liquigas, the Italian had no equal, finishing atop the classification for the polka dot jersey with a commanding 75-point lead over Egoi Martinez (Euskatel-Euskadi). Through incessant attacking, he also picked up the award for the most combative rider of the 2009 Tour, and having the uncanny ability to make the right break, no to mention his climbing prowess, the 31-year-old stole the show in the mountains.
All aboard the Avignon TGV
For our remaining 156 two-wheeled soldiers, Sunday began with a high-speed train transfer via TGV from Avignon to the stage start in Montereau-Fault-Yonne, situated at the confluence of the Seine and Yonne rivers, where in 1814, Napoleon fought one of his epic final battles, his victory immortalised by an equestrian statue erected between the two bridges that span the town's rivers.
The procession that invariably defines the final stage till the peloton hits the Champs Élysées, a well-worn march that has been so since 1975 (although since the Tour's inception in 1903, the race has always finished in Paris), was no different on this mild Parisian afternoon. At the feed zone in Saint-Maurice, maillot jaune Contador toasted a glass of champagne with his Astana coterie, although there was no chiming of glasses as such; in the peloton, glassware is replaced by plastic-ware for reasons of safety.
Arriving groupé onto the first of eight passages of the Champs Élysées, a septet took flight in search of very uncertain glory. Jussi Veikkanen (Française des Jeux), Arnaud Coyot (Caisse d'Epargne), Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis), Alexandre Pichot (BBox Bouygues Telecom), Carlos Barredo (Quick Step), Fabian Wegmann (Milram) and Fumiyuki Beppu (Skil-Shimano) were in the move which was launched an ambitious 50km from their final finishing line of the 2009 Tour.
Commendably, Vaikennan, Beppu and Wegmann lasted all the way until the bell lap marking 6.5km to go, even a little further. But this being the last hurrah for the sprinters and Columbia-HTC being so dominant, the stage was set for a sprint royale five kilometres out, where from the kilometre kite onwards, the familiar trio of George Hincapie, Renshaw and Cavendish led to an all-too-familiar conclusion.
For images of stage 21 click here
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Mark Cavendish (GBr) Team Columbia - HTC||4:02:18|
|2||Mark Renshaw (Aus) Team Columbia - HTC||Row 1 - Cell 2|
|3||Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin - Slipstream||Row 2 - Cell 2|
|4||Gerald Ciolek (Ger) Team Milram||Row 3 - Cell 2|
|5||Yauheni Hutarovich (Blr) Française des Jeux||Row 4 - Cell 2|
|6||Thor Hushovd (Nor) Cervelo Test Team||Row 5 - Cell 2|
|7||Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne||Row 6 - Cell 2|
|8||Marco Bandiera (Ita) Lampre - NGC||Row 7 - Cell 2|
|9||Daniele Bennati (Ita) Liquigas||Row 8 - Cell 2|
|10||William Bonnet (Fra) BBOX Bouygues Telecom||Row 9 - Cell 2|
|11||Lloyd Mondory (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||Row 10 - Cell 2|
|12||Geoffroy Lequatre (Fra) Agritubel||Row 11 - Cell 2|
|13||Nikolai Troussov (Rus) Team Katusha||Row 12 - Cell 2|
|14||Cycril Lemoine (Fra) Skil-Shimano||Row 13 - Cell 2|
|15||Leonardo Duque (Col) Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne||Row 14 - Cell 2|
|16||Sebastian Lang (Ger) Silence - Lotto||Row 15 - Cell 2|
|17||Matteo Tosatto (Ita) Quick Step||Row 16 - Cell 2|
|18||Steven de Jongh (Ned) Quick Step||Row 17 - Cell 2|
|19||Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Team Saxo Bank||Row 18 - Cell 2|
|20||Yukiya Arashiro (Jpn) BBOX Bouygues Telecom||Row 19 - Cell 2|
|21||Saïd Haddou (Fra) BBOX Bouygues Telecom||Row 20 - Cell 2|
|22||Sébastien Rosseler (Bel) Quick Step||Row 21 - Cell 2|
|23||Fabio Sabatini (Ita) Liquigas||Row 22 - Cell 2|
|24||Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Team Katusha||Row 23 - Cell 2|
|25||Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Team Saxo Bank||Row 24 - Cell 2|
|26||Andreas Klöden (Ger) Astana||Row 25 - Cell 2|
|27||Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Quick Step||Row 26 - Cell 2|
|28||Brett Lancaster (Aus) Cervelo Test Team||Row 27 - Cell 2|
|29||Peter Velits (Svk) Team Milram||Row 28 - Cell 2|
|30||Johannes Fröhlinger (Ger) Team Milram||Row 29 - Cell 2|
|31||Johan Van Summeren (Bel) Silence - Lotto||Row 30 - Cell 2|
|32||Aleksandr Kuschynski (Blr) Liquigas||Row 31 - Cell 2|
|33||Ruben Perez Moreno (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi||Row 32 - Cell 2|
|34||Juan Antonio Flecha Giannoni (Spa) Rabobank||Row 33 - Cell 2|
|35||Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) Silence - Lotto||Row 34 - Cell 2|
|36||Stijn Vandenbergh (Bel) Team Katusha||Row 35 - Cell 2|
|37||Oscar Freire Gomez (Spa) Rabobank||Row 36 - Cell 2|
|38||Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale||Row 37 - Cell 2|
|39||Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas||Row 38 - Cell 2|
|40||Christophe Le Mevel (Fra) Française des Jeux||Row 39 - Cell 2|
|41||Julian Dean (NZl) Garmin - Slipstream||Row 40 - Cell 2|
|42||Heinrich Haussler (Ger) Cervelo Test Team||Row 41 - Cell 2|
|43||Serguei Ivanov (Rus) Team Katusha||Row 42 - Cell 2|
|44||Christian Vande Velde (USA) Garmin - Slipstream||Row 43 - Cell 2|
|45||Christian Knees (Ger) Team Milram||Row 44 - Cell 2|
|46||Alessandro Vanotti (Ita) Liquigas||Row 45 - Cell 2|
|47||Alexandre Botcharov (Rus) Team Katusha||Row 46 - Cell 2|
|48||Jérôme Pineau (Fra) Quick Step||Row 47 - Cell 2|
|49||Christophe Moreau (Fra) Agritubel||Row 48 - Cell 2|
|50||Alessandro Ballan (Ita) Lampre - NGC||Row 49 - Cell 2|
|51||Mickael Delage (Fra) Silence - Lotto||Row 50 - Cell 2|
|52||Stijn Devolder (Bel) Quick Step||Row 51 - Cell 2|
|53||Frederik Willems (Bel) Liquigas||Row 52 - Cell 2|
|54||Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas||Row 53 - Cell 2|
|55||Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Garmin - Slipstream||Row 54 - Cell 2|
|56||Fränk Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank||Row 55 - Cell 2|
|57||Sébastien Minard (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne||Row 56 - Cell 2|
|58||Daniele Righi (Ita) Lampre - NGC||Row 57 - Cell 2|
|59||Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence - Lotto||Row 58 - Cell 2|
|60||Jérémy Roy (Fra) Française des Jeux||Row 59 - Cell 2|
|61||Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) Astana||Row 60 - Cell 2|
|62||Lance Armstrong (USA) Astana||Row 61 - Cell 2|
|63||Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank||Row 62 - Cell 2|
|64||Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Silence - Lotto||Row 63 - Cell 2|
|65||Volodymir Gustov (Ukr) Cervelo Test Team||Row 64 - Cell 2|
|66||Sandy Casar (Fra) Française des Jeux||Row 65 - Cell 2|
|67||Brian Vandborg (Den) Liquigas||Row 66 - Cell 2|
|68||Benoït Vaugrenard (Fra) Française des Jeux||Row 67 - Cell 2|
|69||Mikel Astarloza Chaurreau (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi||Row 68 - Cell 2|
|70||Koen de Kort (Ned) Skil-Shimano||Row 69 - Cell 2|
|71||Andreas Klier (Ger) Cervelo Test Team||Row 70 - Cell 2|
|72||Simon Spilak (Slo) Lampre - NGC||Row 71 - Cell 2|
|73||Hayden Roulston (NZl) Cervelo Test Team||Row 72 - Cell 2|
|74||Vladimir Karpets (Rus) Team Katusha||Row 73 - Cell 2|
|75||George Hincapie (USA) Team Columbia - HTC||Row 74 - Cell 2|
|76||Nicki Sörensen (Den) Team Saxo Bank||Row 75 - Cell 2|
|77||Tony Martin (Ger) Team Columbia - HTC||Row 76 - Cell 2|
|78||Marcus Fothen (Ger) Team Milram||Row 77 - Cell 2|
|79||Gustav Erik Larsson (Swe) Team Saxo Bank||Row 78 - Cell 2|
|80||Egoi Martinez De Esteban (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi||Row 79 - Cell 2|
|81||Linus Gerdemann (Ger) Team Milram||Row 80 - Cell 2|
|82||Grischa Niermann (Ger) Rabobank||Row 81 - Cell 2|
|83||David Arroyo Duran (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne||Row 82 - Cell 2|
|84||Simon Geschke (Ger) Skil-Shimano||Row 83 - Cell 2|
|85||Carlos Barredo Llamazales (Spa) Quick Step||Row 84 - Cell 2|
|86||Christophe Riblon (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||Row 85 - Cell 2|
|87||Stéphane Auge (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne||Row 86 - Cell 2|
|88||José Ivan Gutierrez Palacios (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne||Row 87 - Cell 2|
|89||Luis Pasamontes Rodriguez (Spa) Caisse d'Epargne||Row 88 - Cell 2|
|90||Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale||Row 89 - Cell 2|
|91||Anthony Geslin (Fra) Française des Jeux||Row 90 - Cell 2|
|92||Brice Feillu (Fra) Agritubel||Row 91 - Cell 2|
|93||Haimar Zubeldia Aguirre (Spa) Astana||Row 92 - Cell 2|
|94||Stéphane Goubert (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||Row 93 - Cell 2|
|95||José Luis Arrieta Lujambio (Spa) AG2R La Mondiale||Row 94 - Cell 2|
|96||Marzio Bruseghin (Ita) Lampre - NGC||Row 95 - Cell 2|
|97||Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana||Row 96 - Cell 2|
|98||Sergio Miguel Moreira Paulinho (Por) Astana||Row 97 - Cell 2|
|99||Joost Posthuma (Ned) Rabobank||Row 98 - Cell 2|
|100||Igor Anton Hernandez (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi||Row 99 - Cell 2|
|101||Stef Clement (Ned) Rabobank||Row 100 - Cell 2|
|102||Gorka Verdugo Marcotegui (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi||Row 101 - Cell 2|
|103||Pierrick Fedrigo (Fra) BBOX Bouygues Telecom||Row 102 - Cell 2|
|104||Chris Anker Sørensen (Den) Team Saxo Bank||Row 103 - Cell 2|
|105||Staf Scheirlinckx (Bel) Silence - Lotto||Row 104 - Cell 2|
|106||Juan Manuel Garate Cepa (Spa) Rabobank||Row 105 - Cell 2|
|107||Grégory Rast (Swi) Astana||Row 106 - Cell 2|
|108||Joan Horrach Rippoll (Spa) Team Katusha||Row 107 - Cell 2|
|109||Carlos Sastre Candil (Spa) Cervelo Test Team||Row 108 - Cell 2|
|110||Juan Jose Oroz Ugalde (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi||Row 109 - Cell 2|
|111||Rémi Pauriol (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne||Row 110 - Cell 2|
|112||Thierry Huppond (Fra) Skil-Shimano||Row 111 - Cell 2|
|113||Jonathan Hivert (Fra) Skil-Shimano||Row 112 - Cell 2|
|114||Mauro Santambrogio (Ita) Lampre - NGC||Row 113 - Cell 2|
|115||Niki Terpstra (Ned) Team Milram||Row 114 - Cell 2|
|116||Pierre Rolland (Fra) BBOX Bouygues Telecom||Row 115 - Cell 2|
|117||Maxime Bouet (Fra) Agritubel||Row 116 - Cell 2|
|118||Hubert Dupont (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||Row 117 - Cell 2|
|119||Laurent Lefevre (Fra) BBOX Bouygues Telecom||Row 118 - Cell 2|
|120||Bingen Fernandez Bustinza (Spa) Cofidis, Le Credit en Ligne||Row 119 - Cell 2|