By Cathy Mehl
In the shadow of the Arc de Triomphe, First Endurance rider Alberto Contador (Team Astana) held up two fingers on each hand to signify his second Tour de France win in what played out to be a near-perfect ride for the young Spanish champion. Contador took both a mountain stage and time trial win, along with the victory for the team time trial, making for a well-rounded Tour from the world’s current best stage racer. After almost 85-hours of racing, Contador’s gap to second place was a dominant four minutes, satisfying even nay-sayers that his repeat performance at the top of the podium in Paris is not a fluke. Coming in 4:11 behind Contador was Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) and rounding out the podium was seven-time Tour champion Lance Armstrong in his return to the sport after a four year retirement. Team Astana also took the win in the Teams classification, a testament to the hard work put in by 6th place finisher Andreas Klöden, Sergio Paulinho, Yaroslav Popovych, Haimar Zubeldia, Gregory Rast, Dmitriy Muravyev and Levi Leipheimer to put two men on the podium.
Champagne, pats on the back and plenty of animated chatter among the riders was the scene in the early part of today’s stage. After a casual ride from the countryside into the city of Paris on a beautiful summer’s day, Team Astana rode first on to theChamps Élysées, led by hard-working Rast at the front of the group, the boys in blue lined up behind him with Contador in yellow safely tucked behind Armstrong. Then the peloton went into over-drive with several groups going off the front, including a strong seven-man break that included Thomas Voeckler (Bbox-Bouygues-Telecom) and Fumy Beppu (Skil-Shimano). Columbia-HTC made sure they rode hard at the front to keep the break from staying away and methodically shut it down by the last lap.
During the bell lap as the peloton approached the half-way point on the lap, Garmin tried to outfox the Columbia-HTC team by going to the front early, but they arrived one man short and had a little too far to go to make it stick. Under the 1km to go red kite George Hincapie held court at the front of the peloton with Mark Renshaw and Mark Cavendish lined up just behind. Coming into the final corner onto the Champs Élysées Renshaw and Cavendish hit it first with everyone else having to slow to get back on the line. That was all the two in front needed to get First Endurance rider Mark Cavendish (Columbia-HCT) ramped up and speeding for the finish line, horizoning all other sprinters, far enough ahead that his lead-out man Renshaw captured second on the stage.
This win makes nine Tour wins for General Manager Johan Bruyneel…that’s nine in 11 years for the master strategist who relishes the challenge of winning the Tour…again and again and again. Not to be over-looked are the other Tour sports directors: Alain Gallopin, Viatcheslav Ekimov and Dirk Demol. And of course congratulations to all the hard-working staff as well. Well done!