Mr. Contador's Tour de France win – with only a 39-second lead over rival Andy Schleck of Luxembourg, who finished second – capped a banner summer of sports for Spain. Spain’s soccer team won the World Cup in South Africa, tennis star Rafael Nadal took this year’s French Open and Wimbledon trophies, and Spain's top basketball player, Pau Gasol, played a pivotal role in lifting the Los Angeles Lakers to an NBA championship.
“[Our] sports are in great health across the board,” Contador said yesterday. “We’re feeling good.”
Feeling good, indeed.
Throughout Stage 20, won in a sprint by Briton Mark Cavendish, Contador was fêted by fans and colleagues.
He bantered with fellow riders, including Schleck, enjoyed a glass of champagne, and soaked up the roadside atmosphere as the peloton rolled along the 63.7-mile stage towards the Champs-Élysées.
After the race, he put on the winner's yellow jersey atop the podium and smiled widely.
“I'm very happy,” he said. “I've had difficult days from a psychological and a physical point of view.”
A controversial breakaway
That’s where Contador took the lead from Schleck, in a somewhat controversial breakaway after Schleck had a mechanical problem during Stage 15 in Ax-3 Domaines.
Despite a challenge from Schleck in Saturday’s individual time trial, Contador held on for the win.
“I was scared that I might not beat Andy in the time trial,” Contador said in a press conference Saturday night. “But I kept very focused and held it together.”
The 39-second win was the fifth smallest margin in Tour history and just the eighth time that the 107-year old race has been won by less than a minute.
But Contador is used to cutting it close — he beat Cadel Evans by just 23 seconds for his first title in 2007.
Cavendish finishes strong, too
Contador wasn’t the only one smiling after the race, which concluded with eight laps around downtown Paris.
HTC-Columbia’s Mark Cavendish exploded past rivals at the finish to win his second straight win on the Champs-Élysées and his fifth stage of this Tour de France.
“It was a perfect end to the Tour and I'm looking forward to celebrating," he said.
But most every rider was just happy to finish, arriving at the team buses to rounds of applause, hugs, and ice-cold beverages.
“They’re off-duty pretty much starting now,” HTC-Columbia owner Bob Stapleton told the Monitor.