Tres victorias de Francia para Contador!

After the biggest fight in his cycling life, Alberto Contador has won a third Tour de France.

"This victory cost me a lot," he said, "and I'm very moved. I suffered a lot, but that's what you have to do to win the Tour."

And when the fat lady was warming up her vocal cords, readying her wide-berthed-self to sing to the tune of the Spanish national anthem, with all his might and power, down came HTC-Columbia's Mark Cavendish on the Champs-Élysées, proving for a fifth time this race, he still is the world's best sprinter.

"Bernie Eisel and Tony Martin were with me at the finish. Bernie took me to the tunnel the last time and Tony did a really good job to drop me on the wheel of Petacchi in the last kilometre," said the once-in-a-lifetime speedster from the Isle of Man.

"Once I was on Petacchi's wheel, I knew I could win the stage," said the 25-year-old, who holds a future as bright as the star of Sirius. "We came out of that last corner and I just jumped... Every sprint in the Tour you try and save as much energy as possible, but the Champs-Élysées, you've got nothing to save your energy for - you just go balls-out to the line, and that's kind of what I did today."

But perhaps the best story of this Tour is the legacy it leaves.

Three weeks ago on July 3, so many automatically assumed a Contador victory was a done deal. Few thought 27-year-old 'Pistolero' would come so close to defeat at the hands of a boyish-faced, slightly naïve Luxembourger 18 months his junior - the man we know as Andy Schleck of Team Saxo Bank.

If this race has proven anything, it is that Contador, contrary to what most originally thought after his dominating ride 12 months ago, does not have a virtual stranglehold on La Grande Boucle for years to come, as much as his Astana team don't have a vice-like grip on his signature.

"Maybe I wasn't in the best shape...there were days I was not at my best. I won't say when the bad days were," Contador said, eternally reluctant to give anything away.

"Just before the Tour started, I was on antibiotics because I had a cold just before the Spanish championships, so this might have influenced my performance. Cycling is not like mathematics; there are moments when you are well prepared and everything runs smoothly, and there are times when you are well prepared and everything does not."

The era of Miguel Induráin, characterised by a monotonous level of superiority and a personality so likeable you wanted to hate him just for the sake of it, is unlikely to recur in the next decade. Not from Contador, anyway.

Yesterday in Pauillac, when the Spaniard wept uncontrollably like a child who'd lost his mother, it was because, as he admitted himself, the hardest day he'd ever ridden on the bike. The race of truth never lies, and over those 52 kilometres, had Contador's legs been two or three percent weaker, he may not have been standing where he was around 6 p.m. is Sunday, flanked by Schleck on his right and on the left, Russian Denis Menchov of Rabobank, who, for the first time, stepped on the Paris podium as quietly as he got there - with little fanfare and less of a trace.

"Yesterday [in the time trial], I thought I was still a few seconds behind Andy," said Contador, "so I never gave up till the finish line. I had a stomach ache before, but eventually things went okay."

Most pundits have said the 2010 Tour was one of the hardest in years. To find a comparatively similar race, one may have to go all the way back to the 1986 Tour that witnessed the famous Battle Royale between Bernard Hinault and Greg LeMond; a race that turned teammates into bitter rivals, with the rift remaining so till this day.

A Tour de France won by less than a minute - 39 seconds to be precise - is a great prelude to what may come a year or two from now, when Schleck will be stronger still and Contador likely back to his 2009 Tour-winning form. "I'm sure he will keep improving," Contador said.

Still, in order to win cycling's blue riband prize, one feels Schleck the younger needs to do one of two things, or both.

First, increase his cadence when climbing to allow him to attack with greater bite. Four days ago on the Col du Tourmalet, Contador responded to each of Schleck's attacks with apparent ease, looking more like a shadow than a rival. Most of all, though, the 25-year-old must take steps to eliminate what many feel remains his albatross - the time trial.

Unlike Lance, Petacchi defies the clock

The strategic game played by Norwegian Thor Hushovd, noticeably slower than last year when he took the maillot vert, did not work this time. Certainly, at the start three weeks ago in Rotterdam, Hushovd would never have thought Alessandro Petacchi - who most believed to be well past his prime - would turn out to be his greatest adversary.

Hushovd wasn't the only one taken aback by the La Spezia sprinter.

Cavendish truly felt this 93rd edition was the year he would win the classification that continues to elude him. That the best sprinter - which, by some margin, Cav' was at this Tour and the last - is rarely the one who ends with the most points reinforces the message that consistency and cunning prevails over outright speed in this competition.

Aside from his two stage wins - one ostensibly gifted due to a crash, one truly earned - it was Petacchi's uniformity over three weeks that proved the greatest surprise, including his ability to get through the Pyrénées and Alps unscathed and with speed to spare.

A poor race for polka-dots

With respect, the mountains competition was not really a competition. Because if it was, it would be like the war we saw for green: the best riders of that genre fighting tooth-and-nail as if they were fighting for the maillot jaune.

Not once did we see the Tour's best climbers - Schleck, Contador, Damiano Cunego, Samuel Sanchez, Robert Gesink - go for a mountain prime with the intention of building their lead in the polka-dot classification. Instead, it was Frenchman Anthony Charteau, an all-rounder but certainly no grimpeur, that took advantage of the lackadaisical attitude of the aforementioned and walked away with the third most prestigious (and remunerated) prize at the Tour.

Perhaps it's time for a rethink from messieurs Prudhomme and Pescheux. Time, perhaps, to introduce time bonuses for mountain primes to create a better contest and encourage attacks - which, over time, may lead to another pure climber winning the Tour, à la Marco Pantani in 1998.

You wouldn't go to school wearing the wrong uniform, would you?

At 14:30 p.m., the final stage of the Tour de France began - slowly.

But what normally begins with frolicking and frivolities turned ugly when the RadioShack nine donned some custom-made jerseys, all bearing the number 28 - referring to the 28 million people around the world suffering from cancer - after they had signed in with their standard-issue 'Shack garb. Unsurprisingly, the commissaires wouldn't have a bar of it - which, embarrassingly for Lance Armstrong et al., led to the team changing back to their real kit on the roadside.

Then, with ridiculous irony, Contador and Schleck staged a faux-sprint for the cameras - and the latter's chain got caught up, requiring a bike change! This time, however, Contador waited.

And so, with the day's drama out of the way, the peloton hit the Place de la Concorde ensemble for their final 50-odd kilometres in what has been a most arduous Tour de France. However, when it came to the inevitable sprint finish, one man possessed a pair of legs fresher, stronger and faster than those he came with three weeks ago, Cavendish making a virtual mockery of his fast-twitched rivals as he put five bike-lengths between he and Petacchi, second, and Garmin's Julian Dean, who placed third.

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Full Results
1Mark Cavendish (GBr) Team HTC - Columbia2:42:21
2Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Lampre-Farnese ViniRow 1 - Cell 2
3Julian Dean (NZl) Garmin - TransitionsRow 2 - Cell 2
4Jurgen Roelandts (Bel) Omega Pharma-LottoRow 3 - Cell 2
5Oscar Freire Gomez (Spa) RabobankRow 4 - Cell 2
6Gerald Ciolek (Ger) Team MilramRow 5 - Cell 2
7Thor Hushovd (Nor) Cervelo Test TeamRow 6 - Cell 2
8Matti Breschel (Den) Team Saxo BankRow 7 - Cell 2
9Robbie McEwen (Aus) Team KatushaRow 8 - Cell 2
10Daniel Oss (Ita) Liquigas-DoimoRow 9 - Cell 2
11Martijn Maaskant (Ned) Garmin - TransitionsRow 10 - Cell 2
12Lloyd Mondory (Fra) AG2R La MondialeRow 11 - Cell 2
13Sébastien Turgot (Fra) Bbox Bouygues TelecomRow 12 - Cell 2
14Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Caisse d'EpargneRow 13 - Cell 2
15Ruben Perez Moreno (Spa) Euskaltel - EuskadiRow 14 - Cell 2
16Yukiya Arashiro (Jpn) Bbox Bouygues TelecomRow 15 - Cell 2
17Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Professional Cycling TeamRow 16 - Cell 2
18Lars Boom (Ned) RabobankRow 17 - Cell 2
19Alessandro Ballan (Ita) BMC Racing TeamRow 18 - Cell 2
20Danilo Hondo (Ger) Lampre-Farnese ViniRow 19 - Cell 2
21Sebastian Lang (Ger) Omega Pharma-LottoRow 20 - Cell 2
22Kristjan Koren (Slo) Liquigas-DoimoRow 21 - Cell 2
23Luke Roberts (Aus) Team MilramRow 22 - Cell 2
24Cyril Gautier (Fra) Bbox Bouygues TelecomRow 23 - Cell 2
25Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Omega Pharma-LottoRow 24 - Cell 2
26Carlos Barredo Llamazales (Spa) Quick StepRow 25 - Cell 2
27Rui Alberto Faria da Costa (Por) Caisse d'EpargneRow 26 - Cell 2
28Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La MondialeRow 27 - Cell 2
29Benoït Vaugrenard (Fra) Française des JeuxRow 28 - Cell 2
30Brett Lancaster (Aus) Cervelo Test TeamRow 29 - Cell 2
31Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Team Saxo BankRow 30 - Cell 2
32Christophe Kern (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit en LigneRow 31 - Cell 2
33Pierre Rolland (Fra) Bbox Bouygues TelecomRow 32 - Cell 2
34Stéphane Auge (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit en LigneRow 33 - Cell 2
35José Ivan Gutierrez Palacios (Spa) Caisse d'EpargneRow 34 - Cell 2
36Gorka Verdugo Marcotegui (Spa) Euskaltel - EuskadiRow 35 - Cell 2
37Ruben Plaza Molina (Spa) Caisse d'EpargneRow 36 - Cell 2
38Alexander Kuschynski (Blr) Liquigas-DoimoRow 37 - Cell 2
39Jose Alberto Benitez Roman (Spa) Footon-ServettoRow 38 - Cell 2
40Julien El Farès (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit en LigneRow 39 - Cell 2
41Matthieu Ladagnous (Fra) Française des JeuxRow 40 - Cell 2
42Alexandr Kolobnev (Rus) Team KatushaRow 41 - Cell 2
43Fabian Wegmann (Ger) Team MilramRow 42 - Cell 2
44George Hincapie (USA) BMC Racing TeamRow 43 - Cell 2
45Christopher Horner (USA) Team RadioshackRow 44 - Cell 2
46Johan Van Summeren (Bel) Garmin - TransitionsRow 45 - Cell 2
47Inaki Isasi Flores (Spa) Euskaltel - EuskadiRow 46 - Cell 2
48Kevin De Weert (Bel) Quick StepRow 47 - Cell 2
49Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas-DoimoRow 48 - Cell 2
50Joaquin Rodriguez (Spa) Team KatushaRow 49 - Cell 2
51Andreas Klöden (Ger) Team RadioshackRow 50 - Cell 2
52Thomas Löfkvist (Swe) Sky Professional Cycling TeamRow 51 - Cell 2
53Martin Elmiger (Swi) AG2R La MondialeRow 52 - Cell 2
54Wesley Sulzberger (Aus) Française des JeuxRow 53 - Cell 2
55Brent Bookwalter (USA) BMC Racing TeamRow 54 - Cell 2
56Imanol Erviti Ollo (Spa) Caisse d'EpargneRow 55 - Cell 2
57Marcus Burghardt (Ger) BMC Racing TeamRow 56 - Cell 2
58Sébastien Minard (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit en LigneRow 57 - Cell 2
59Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Omega Pharma-LottoRow 58 - Cell 2
60Vasili Kiryienka (Blr) Caisse d'EpargneRow 59 - Cell 2
61Serguei Ivanov (Rus) Team KatushaRow 60 - Cell 2
62Eduard Vorganov (Rus) Team KatushaRow 61 - Cell 2
63Mario Aerts (Bel) Omega Pharma-LottoRow 62 - Cell 2
64Christophe Moreau (Fra) Caisse d'EpargneRow 63 - Cell 2
65Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin - TransitionsRow 64 - Cell 2
66Robert Gesink (Ned) RabobankRow 65 - Cell 2
67Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Team RadioshackRow 66 - Cell 2
68David De La Fuente Rasilla (Spa) AstanaRow 67 - Cell 2
69Andriy Grivko (Ukr) AstanaRow 68 - Cell 2
70Jesus Hernandez Blazquez (Spa) AstanaRow 69 - Cell 2
71Grischa Niermann (Ger) RabobankRow 70 - Cell 2
72Serge Pauwels (Bel) Sky Professional Cycling TeamRow 71 - Cell 2
73Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Quick StepRow 72 - Cell 2
74Sylvester Szmyd (Pol) Liquigas-DoimoRow 73 - Cell 2
75Iban Velasco Murillo (Spa) Euskaltel - EuskadiRow 74 - Cell 2
76Tony Martin (Ger) Team HTC - ColumbiaRow 75 - Cell 2
77Damiano Cunego (Ita) Lampre-Farnese ViniRow 76 - Cell 2
78Linus Gerdemann (Ger) Team MilramRow 77 - Cell 2
79John Gadret (Fra) AG2R La MondialeRow 78 - Cell 2
80Benjamin Noval Gonzalez (Spa) AstanaRow 79 - Cell 2
81Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) AstanaRow 80 - Cell 2
82Maxim Iglinskiy (Kaz) AstanaRow 81 - Cell 2
83Paolo Tiralongo (Ita) AstanaRow 82 - Cell 2
84Daniel Lloyd (GBr) Cervelo Test TeamRow 83 - Cell 2
85Alexander Vinokourov (Kaz) AstanaRow 84 - Cell 2
86Daniel Navarro Garcia (Spa) AstanaRow 85 - Cell 2
87Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Team Saxo BankRow 86 - Cell 2
88Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo BankRow 87 - Cell 2
89Jens Voigt (Ger) Team Saxo BankRow 88 - Cell 2
90Anthony Geslin (Fra) Française des JeuxRow 89 - Cell 2
91Bert Grabsch (Ger) Team HTC - ColumbiaRow 90 - Cell 2
92Francis De Greef (Bel) Omega Pharma-LottoRow 91 - Cell 2
93Volodymir Gustov (Ukr) Cervelo Test TeamRow 92 - Cell 2
94Johannes Fröhlinger (Ger) Team MilramRow 93 - Cell 2
95Andreas Klier (Ger) Cervelo Test TeamRow 94 - Cell 2
96Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Team Saxo BankRow 95 - Cell 2
97Steven Cummings (GBr) Sky Professional Cycling TeamRow 96 - Cell 2
98Levi Leipheimer (USA) Team RadioshackRow 97 - Cell 2
99Pierrick Fedrigo (Fra) Bbox Bouygues TelecomRow 98 - Cell 2
100Koos Moerenhout (Ned) RabobankRow 99 - Cell 2
101Maxime Bouet (Fra) AG2R La MondialeRow 100 - Cell 2
102David Millar (GBr) Garmin - Transitions