Astana’s Alberto Contador collected his third Tour de France title on Sunday as HTC-Columbia’s Mark Cavendish sprinted to victory in the 20th and final stage on the Champs-Élysées.
A determined break nearly spoiled the party for the Tour’s sprinters on the final day, but the peloton finally shut it down with 6km to go. And while Team Sky and Cervélo TestTeam appeared to have the jump on HTC-Columbia going into the final kilometer, Cavendish lit it up and no one could touch him as he rocketed toward a fifth stage win.
Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-Farnese) held on for second, cementing his grip on the green jersey, with Julian Dean (Garmin-Transitions) third.
Contador took the overall win by 39 seconds ahead of Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) with Denis Menchov (Rabobank) third at 2:01.
“I had some tough moments on this year’s race, as much from a mental as physical point of view,” said Contador, who has now won five grand tours after his Vuelta a España and Giro d’Italia wins in 2008.
“I think that managing to cope during those days was the reason I won the Tour. I suffered a lot to get this result. Words don’t explain what it means to me.”
As for runner-up Schleck, who took home another white jersey as the Tour’s best rider under 25, he said: “I wanted to win it this year, but I’m making a rendezvous for next year to win a jersey of that color,” said Schleck as he stood and pointed at Contador.
A costume change delays the parade to Paris
The 102.5km parade stage from Longjumeau to the cobbles of the Champs-Élysées included the usual fanfare and foolishness — a rollout with the yellow, white, polka-dot and green jerseys leading the way, Contador sipping Champagne with his teammates and staffers, faux attacks from Astana’s Alexander Vinokourov, Contador and Schleck — and a non-fake bike change in the neutral zone for Schleck, who once again appeared to be suffering drivetrain issues.
Also attracting attention was Team RadioShack’s decision to start the final stage in black American-football-style kit bearing the number “28,” for the 28 million people worldwide estimated to be living with cancer.
But the UCI did not approve, and after some animated discussion the entire team had to take five to pull on the normal RadioShack kit bearing the UCI’s official blessing, which entailed re-pinning numbers, shifting race snacks from one jersey to the other and a great deal of frantic photography by the cycling press.
The “controversy” prompted Cofidis riders Stephan Auge and Thomas Voekler to trade jerseys and ride up, grinning, to Lance Armstrong, who did not appear to be enjoying the enforced costume change.
One day, two races — for the stage and the green jersey
There were two races going on in the final day of the 97th Tour — the contest for the stage win after eight circuits of the Champs-Élysées, and the fight for the green jersey, which was very much up in the air.
Points before stage 20
- 1. Alessandro Petacchi, Lampre-Farnese, 213 points
- 2. Thor Hushovd, Cérvelo TestTeam, 203 points
- 3. Mark Cavendish, HTC-Columbia, 197 points
- 4. Jose Joaquin Rojas, Caisse d’Epargne, 167 points
- 5. Robbie McEwen, Katusha, 162 points
- Stage 20 points results
There were two intermediate sprints on the Champs-Élysées, at 58km and 77.5km, awarding 6, 4 and 2 points to first, second and third. Points on offer at the finish went 25 deep, with 35 for the winner and 1 for the 25th man to cross the line.
Astana led Contador onto the Champs-Élysées with Saxo Bank just behind for Schleck. George Hincapie (BMC Racing Team) punctured just as the bunch began its first circuit and had to chase back on.
Breaks come and go — and stick
Breakaway attempts came and went, but nothing stuck until late in the first go-round, when a six-man group formed — Aleksandr Kuchynski (Liquigas-Doimo), Marcus Burghardt (BMC), Ruben Perez Moreno (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Christophe Riblon (Ag2r La Mondiale), Maarten Tjallingii (Rabobank) and Stéphan Auge (Cofidis).
This was good news for green jersey Petacchi, as Kuchynski took the maximum points at the first sprint ahead of Burghardt and Perez Moreno.
The break changed its cast of characters on the second lap — Nicky Sorensen (Saxo Bank), Sandy Casar and Anthony Roux (FdJ), Riblon, Tony Martin (HTC-Columbia), Karsten Kroon (BMC), Christian Knees (Milram), Alan Perez Lezaun (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Danilo Hondo (Lampre), Rémi Pauriol (Cofidis) and Aitor Perez Arrieta (Footon-Servetto). With 36km to go it had a dozen seconds on the peloton, led by HTC.
The break builds its advantage
Going into the third lap the break extended its advantage a bit, to 15 seconds, and having missed it Team Sky came forward to help chase for Edvald Boasson Hagen. Lampre was near the front, too, keeping Petacchi out of trouble.
The break took more time on the third lap, building its lead to 25 seconds, and Alexandr Kolobnev (Katusha) came forward to lend a hand to the pursuit for Robbie McEwen, shut out so far in the Tour.
Kroon, Casar and Knees collected the points at the second intermediate sprint, leaving Petacchi, Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) and Thor Hushovd (Cervélo TestTeam), to fight it out in the finish.
With three laps to race the gap held steady at 22 seconds and Katusha sent Alexandr Pliuschin up to help Kolobnev. The chase finally began nibbling away at the break’s advantage, pulling the leaders back to within 15 seconds with 17km to go.
Two laps to go and the peloton was still 18 seconds behind the leaders, who were showing no sign of surrendering. And suddenly Knees attacked up the gutter on the right side of the road. Burghardt brought him back, with Martin on his wheel.
Knees went again, and this time the German national champion got a gap, with Sorensen on his wheel. Kroon made it up to them and with 10km to go the trio had five seconds on the remnants of the original break and 20 seconds on the field.
All-time Tour wins records
Lance Armstrong (USA): 1999 to 2005
Jacques Anquetil (FRA): 1957, 1961 to 1964
Eddy Merckx (BEL): 1969 to 1972, 1974
Bernard Hinault (FRA): 1978, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1985
Miguel Indurain (ESP): 1991 to 1995
Philippe Thys (BEL): 1913, 1914, 1920
Louison Bobet (FRA): 1953 to 1955
Greg LeMond (USA): 1986, 1989, 1990
Alberto Contador (ESP): 2007, 2009, 2010
Bell lap on the Champs-Élysées
The trio had 15 seconds and 7km to race, but the chase was closing in fast. Lampre was on the front now and drilling it for the green jersey, pulling the escapees in with 6km to go.
HTC moved forward as the bunch hit the U-turn at the top of the Champs-Élysées, followed by Sky. Then Cervélo stepped forward for Hushovd.
The ever-aggressive Carlos Barredo (Quick Step) tried to throw a monkey wrench into the works with a last-ditch attack, but it was quickly snuffed out.
Sky led into the final kilometer as Garmin-Transitions tried to move up along the curb on the right side of the road. A left, a right and Cervélo was in control. Hushovd launched, but faded; Petacchi gave it his best shot — but it was Cavendish once again, hitting the line first for the second consecutive year.
A few seconds later a triumphant Contador crossed the line with his teammates, hands held high.
“It’s one of the most beautiful feelings in the world, winning on the Champs-Élysées,” said Cavendish. “I didn’t have the best start to the race but once we got that first stage win we went on a roll. It’s a roller-coaster of emotions racing the Tour de France. For me it’s the most beautiful event in the world.”
Third-placed Dean, was pleased with his position, considering his team’s attrition during this Tour.
“It was good. I was second in the last sprint, so it would have been good to be second again or even win. I did what I could,” he said. “It wasn’t very controlled there in the finish. It was moving quite a lot, hard to hold a good position. It was a little bit dangerous for a guy like me. But out of the last corner I just wasn’t fast enough.”
Dean was asked how someone — someone on Garmin in particular — can beat Cavendish.
“We need to keep the guys together and start before him, and have him go early. That’s where we miss Robbie (Hunter) and Tyler (Farrar),” he said, referring to two of the team’s sprinters who left the Tour with injuries, along with the team’s initial GC leader, Christian Vande Velde.
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