An exultant Alberto Contador (Astana) stood on top of the final Tour de France podium for the second time in his short cycling career. The 2007 Tour de France champion can now boast of consecutive Tour victories (a team exclusion in 2008 prevented him from defending his Tour crown) and a total of four consecutive Grand Tour championships (winner of the 2008 Giro d'Italia and 2008 Vuelta a Espana).
He is undoubtedly the strongest stage racer currently in the peloton.
Where The Tour Was Won
In looking back on the 96th Tour de France, many pundits will point to Contador's dominating performances on Stage 15, the climb to Verbier, and on Stage 18, winning the Individual Time Trial in Annecy, as keys to his overall victory. But the true foundation of his victory came in two seemingly insignificant gestures, both of which would raise questions of his tactical abilities and also his loyalties as a teammate.
The first was his late attack on Stage 7. Left out of the selection on the windy Stage 3, where he failed to keep the wheel of the rider in front of him, Contador would attack on the slopes of the Andorre Arcalis. His manuever would gain back the time that he lost on Stage 3, and effectively help him leapfrog his teammate, Lance Armstrong, in the overall standings by two seconds. Although neither teammate would claim the yellow jersey on that day, Contador placed himself in the better position to take it if Rinaldo Nocentini (AG2R La Mondiale) or his team failed to defend it.
The second was his late attack on Stage 17. On the Queen stage of this year's Tour, Contador's decision to attack on the final slope to La Grand Bornand helped elevate Andy and Frank Schleck (Team Saxo Bank) in the overall standings, to second and third, while simultaneously putting time into his teammates, Lance Armstrong and Andreas Kloden, before the final time trial. Although many were focused on how Contador's actions essentially ruined the opportunity for an Astana sweep of the final Tour podium, it presented Contador with the comfortable proposition of having to out duel the Schleck brothers in the Annecy time trial rather than his more accomplished teammates.
Although both of his superlative efforts on Stage 15 and on Stage 18 ruled the above points of argument moot, if neither of these occurred we may be talking about Lance Armstrong's 8th Tour de France championship or Andy Schleck's first.
Before relief turned into exultation for Contador, the other matter of the drag race on the Champs-Élysées had to be settled. The other dominant force in this year's race, Mark Cavendish (Team Columbia - HTC), would win easily and lead a Columbia 1-2 on the final stage of the 96th Tour de France. The victory marked his sixth during this year's race, and his tenth Tour win overall.
During the final finishing circuits; however, it looked as if Garmin-Slipstream had finally come up with a plan to diffuse the explosive Columbia - HTC locomotive. But lead-out men George Hincapie and Mark Renshaw would have none of it. When they launched their final assault, none were able to stay in their streamline. The 24-year-old from the Isle of Man cruised to a victory as final lead-out man Renshaw celebrated from behind and claimed second. Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Slipstream) would follow in third.
Final General Classification
1. Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana - 81:46:17
2. Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank - 0:04:11
3. Lance Armstrong (USA) Astana - 0:05:24
4. Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Garmin - Slipstream - 0:06:01
5. Fränk Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank - 0:06:04
6. Andreas Klöden (Ger) Astana - 0:06:42
7. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas - 0:07:35
8. Christian Vande Velde (USA) Garmin - Slipstream - 0:12:04
9. Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Liquigas - 0:14:16
10. Christophe Le Mevel (Fra) Française des Jeux - 0:14:25
Final Leaders' Jerseys Classification
Alberto Contador (Spa) Astana
Thor Hushovd (Nor) Cervelo Test Team
Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Liquigas
Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank
Franco Pellizotti (Ita) Liquigas
Astana - Best Team Classification
Highlights & Revelations
- Juergen van de Broeck (Silence-Lotto) - Could he be the next great Belgian stage racer?
- Andy Shcleck (Team Saxo Bank) - Attacks like a fiend, and is improving in the time trial
- Tony Martin (Columbia-HTC) - On a team dominated by a sprinter, Martin did it mostly by himself.
- Bradley Wiggins (Garmin-Slipstream) - Lighter and more effective, will he focus solely on the road?
- Brice Feillu (Agritubel) - A French champion in the making?
- Heinrich Haussler (Cervelo Test Team) - An emotional win for a sprinter during a mountain stage
- Mark Cavendish (Columbia-HTC) - At 24-years-old, the sky is the limit.