Cavendish celebrates with number six on the Champs-Élysées

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

Results

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#Rider Name (Country) TeamResult
1Mark Cavendish (GBr) Team Columbia - HTC4:02:18
2Mark Renshaw (Aus) Team Columbia - HTCRow 1 - Cell 2
3Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin - SlipstreamRow 2 - Cell 2
4Gerald Ciolek (Ger) Team MilramRow 3 - Cell 2
5Yauheni Hutarovich (Blr) Française des JeuxRow 4 - Cell 2
6Thor Hushovd (Nor) Cervelo Test TeamRow 5 - Cell 2
7Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Caisse d'EpargneRow 6 - Cell 2
8Marco Bandiera (Ita) Lampre - NGCRow 7 - Cell 2
9Daniele Bennati (Ita) LiquigasRow 8 - Cell 2
10William Bonnet (Fra) BBOX Bouygues TelecomRow 9 - Cell 2
11Lloyd Mondory (Fra) AG2R La MondialeRow 10 - Cell 2
12Geoffroy Lequatre (Fra) AgritubelRow 11 - Cell 2
13Nikolai Troussov (Rus) Team KatushaRow 12 - Cell 2
14Cycril Lemoine (Fra) Skil-ShimanoRow 13 - Cell 2
15Leonardo Duque (Col) Cofidis, Le Credit en LigneRow 14 - Cell 2
16Sebastian Lang (Ger) Silence - LottoRow 15 - Cell 2
17Matteo Tosatto (Ita) Quick StepRow 16 - Cell 2
18Steven de Jongh (Ned) Quick StepRow 17 - Cell 2
19Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Team Saxo BankRow 18 - Cell 2
20Yukiya Arashiro (Jpn) BBOX Bouygues TelecomRow 19 - Cell 2
21Saïd Haddou (Fra) BBOX Bouygues TelecomRow 20 - Cell 2
22Sébastien Rosseler (Bel) Quick StepRow 21 - Cell 2
23Fabio Sabatini (Ita) LiquigasRow 22 - Cell 2
24Filippo Pozzato (Ita) Team KatushaRow 23 - Cell 2
25Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Team Saxo BankRow 24 - Cell 2
26Andreas Klöden (Ger) AstanaRow 25 - Cell 2
27Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Quick StepRow 26 - Cell 2
28Brett Lancaster (Aus) Cervelo Test TeamRow 27 - Cell 2
29Peter Velits (Svk) Team MilramRow 28 - Cell 2
30Johannes Fröhlinger (Ger) Team MilramRow 29 - Cell 2
31Johan Van Summeren (Bel) Silence - LottoRow 30 - Cell 2
32Aleksandr Kuschynski (Blr) LiquigasRow 31 - Cell 2
33Ruben Perez Moreno (Spa) Euskaltel - EuskadiRow 32 - Cell 2
34Juan Antonio Flecha Giannoni (Spa) RabobankRow 33 - Cell 2
35Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) Silence - LottoRow 34 - Cell 2
36Stijn Vandenbergh (Bel) Team KatushaRow 35 - Cell 2
37Oscar Freire Gomez (Spa) RabobankRow 36 - Cell 2
38Rinaldo Nocentini (Ita) AG2R La MondialeRow 37 - Cell 2
39Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) LiquigasRow 38 - Cell 2
40Christophe Le Mevel (Fra) Française des JeuxRow 39 - Cell 2
41Julian Dean (NZl) Garmin - SlipstreamRow 40 - Cell 2
42Heinrich Haussler (Ger) Cervelo Test TeamRow 41 - Cell 2
43Serguei Ivanov (Rus) Team KatushaRow 42 - Cell 2
44Christian Vande Velde (USA) Garmin - SlipstreamRow 43 - Cell 2
45Christian Knees (Ger) Team MilramRow 44 - Cell 2
46Alessandro Vanotti (Ita) LiquigasRow 45 - Cell 2
47Alexandre Botcharov (Rus) Team KatushaRow 46 - Cell 2
48Jérôme Pineau (Fra) Quick StepRow 47 - Cell 2
49Christophe Moreau (Fra) AgritubelRow 48 - Cell 2
50Alessandro Ballan (Ita) Lampre - NGCRow 49 - Cell 2
51Mickael Delage (Fra) Silence - LottoRow 50 - Cell 2
52Stijn Devolder (Bel) Quick StepRow 51 - Cell 2
53Frederik Willems (Bel) LiquigasRow 52 - Cell 2
54Roman Kreuziger (Cze) LiquigasRow 53 - Cell 2
55Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Garmin - SlipstreamRow 54 - Cell 2
56Fränk Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo BankRow 55 - Cell 2
57Sébastien Minard (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit en LigneRow 56 - Cell 2
58Daniele Righi (Ita) Lampre - NGCRow 57 - Cell 2
59Cadel Evans (Aus) Silence - LottoRow 58 - Cell 2
60Jérémy Roy (Fra) Française des JeuxRow 59 - Cell 2
61Yaroslav Popovych (Ukr) AstanaRow 60 - Cell 2
62Lance Armstrong (USA) AstanaRow 61 - Cell 2
63Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo BankRow 62 - Cell 2
64Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Silence - LottoRow 63 - Cell 2
65Volodymir Gustov (Ukr) Cervelo Test TeamRow 64 - Cell 2
66Sandy Casar (Fra) Française des JeuxRow 65 - Cell 2
67Brian Vandborg (Den) LiquigasRow 66 - Cell 2
68Benoït Vaugrenard (Fra) Française des JeuxRow 67 - Cell 2
69Mikel Astarloza Chaurreau (Spa) Euskaltel - EuskadiRow 68 - Cell 2
70Koen de Kort (Ned) Skil-ShimanoRow 69 - Cell 2
71Andreas Klier (Ger) Cervelo Test TeamRow 70 - Cell 2
72Simon Spilak (Slo) Lampre - NGCRow 71 - Cell 2
73Hayden Roulston (NZl) Cervelo Test TeamRow 72 - Cell 2
74Vladimir Karpets (Rus) Team KatushaRow 73 - Cell 2
75George Hincapie (USA) Team Columbia - HTCRow 74 - Cell 2
76Nicki Sörensen (Den) Team Saxo BankRow 75 - Cell 2
77Tony Martin (Ger) Team Columbia - HTCRow 76 - Cell 2
78Marcus Fothen (Ger) Team MilramRow 77 - Cell 2
79Gustav Erik Larsson (Swe) Team Saxo BankRow 78 - Cell 2
80Egoi Martinez De Esteban (Spa) Euskaltel - EuskadiRow 79 - Cell 2
81Linus Gerdemann (Ger) Team MilramRow 80 - Cell 2
82Grischa Niermann (Ger) RabobankRow 81 - Cell 2
83David Arroyo Duran (Spa) Caisse d'EpargneRow 82 - Cell 2
84Simon Geschke (Ger) Skil-ShimanoRow 83 - Cell 2
85Carlos Barredo Llamazales (Spa) Quick StepRow 84 - Cell 2
86Christophe Riblon (Fra) AG2R La MondialeRow 85 - Cell 2
87Stéphane Auge (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit en LigneRow 86 - Cell 2
88José Ivan Gutierrez Palacios (Spa) Caisse d'EpargneRow 87 - Cell 2
89Luis Pasamontes Rodriguez (Spa) Caisse d'EpargneRow 88 - Cell 2
90Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La MondialeRow 89 - Cell 2
91Anthony Geslin (Fra) Française des JeuxRow 90 - Cell 2
92Brice Feillu (Fra) AgritubelRow 91 - Cell 2
93Haimar Zubeldia Aguirre (Spa) AstanaRow 92 - Cell 2
94Stéphane Goubert (Fra) AG2R La MondialeRow 93 - Cell 2
95José Luis Arrieta Lujambio (Spa) AG2R La MondialeRow 94 - Cell 2
96Marzio Bruseghin (Ita) Lampre - NGCRow 95 - Cell 2
97Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) AstanaRow 96 - Cell 2
98Sergio Miguel Moreira Paulinho (Por) AstanaRow 97 - Cell 2
99Joost Posthuma (Ned) RabobankRow 98 - Cell 2
100Igor Anton Hernandez (Spa) Euskaltel - EuskadiRow 99 - Cell 2
101Stef Clement (Ned) RabobankRow 100 - Cell 2
102Gorka Verdugo Marcotegui (Spa) Euskaltel - EuskadiRow 101 - Cell 2
103Pierrick Fedrigo (Fra) BBOX Bouygues TelecomRow 102 - Cell 2
104Chris Anker Sørensen (Den) Team Saxo BankRow 103 - Cell 2
105Staf Scheirlinckx (Bel) Silence - LottoRow 104 - Cell 2
106Juan Manuel Garate Cepa (Spa) RabobankRow 105 - Cell 2
107Grégory Rast (Swi) AstanaRow 106 - Cell 2
108Joan Horrach Rippoll (Spa) Team KatushaRow 107 - Cell 2
109Carlos Sastre Candil (Spa) Cervelo Test TeamRow 108 - Cell 2
110Juan Jose Oroz Ugalde (Spa) Euskaltel - EuskadiRow 109 - Cell 2
111Rémi Pauriol (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit en LigneRow 110 - Cell 2
112Thierry Huppond (Fra) Skil-ShimanoRow 111 - Cell 2
113Jonathan Hivert (Fra) Skil-ShimanoRow 112 - Cell 2
114Mauro Santambrogio (Ita) Lampre - NGCRow 113 - Cell 2
115Niki Terpstra (Ned) Team MilramRow 114 - Cell 2
116Pierre Rolland (Fra) BBOX Bouygues TelecomRow 115 - Cell 2
117Maxime Bouet (Fra) AgritubelRow 116 - Cell 2
118Hubert Dupont (Fra) AG2R La MondialeRow 117 - Cell 2
119Laurent Lefevre (Fra) BBOX Bouygues TelecomRow 118 - Cell 2
120Bingen Fernandez Bustinza (Spa) Cofidis, Le Credit en LigneRow 119 - Cell 2
121Luis León