Though lacking a single stage victory, Alberto Contador rose to the challenge Luxembourg’s Andy Schleck presented again this year, winning the 97th Tour de France by just 39 seconds.
In Saturday’s Stage 19, with the Spaniard leading Schleck by eight seconds, Schleck rode the best time trial of his career. However, it wasn’t enough to compensate for his loss in Stage 15, when Schleck’s chain popped and Contador sped away for a half-minute advantage. Although strong headwinds lashed later riders, early-starter Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland laid down the fastest time of the 2010 Tour, clocking in at 1:00:56. Germany’s Tony Martin lagged 17 seconds behind. Cancellara also prevailed at the day’s much-shorter Prologue time trial.
Sunday’s largely ceremonial, Longjumeau-to-Paris stage began 15 minutes late, as race officials declined to permit Lance Armstrong’s Radio Shack team to wear special jerseys honoring cancer survivors, a decision that sparked some outrage. Britain’s Mark Cavendish prevailed in this final stage, starting his sprint 200 meters from the line. It was the HTC-Columbia rider’s fifth victory this year, and the 15th at the Tour from four starts. In Stage 20, he came within 11 points of the green jersey, which Italian Alessandro Petacchi took away after securing second place.
Two minutes, one second behind Contador was Russian Denis Menchov, while Spaniard Samuel Sanchez seized fourth at 3:40 back. The polka-dot jersey went to France’s Anthony Charteau for the King of the Mountains climbing competition. Twenty-five-year-old Schleck took the young riders’ event, while Radio Shack scored the team prize.
Seven-time Tour winner Armstrong endured multiple crashes and flat tires to finish in 23rd place, 39:20 behind former rival teammate Contador. Armstrong, who is currently under an intense federal investigation for doping, stated that this would be his last Tour, as he heads toward a “very quiet life.”
Armstrong wasn’t the only one to falter. The Tour proved unusually dangerous, as oil-slicked roads caused nearly half the field to crash during Stage 2, and cobblestone sections added an extra obstacle.
While the 27-year-old Contador was predicted to win his third Tour victory, the results could have been quite different had Schleck not lost his chain in Stage 15, when the Astana rider sped away. Fans cried foul, as Tour etiquette dictates that a competitor not take advantage of another rider’s misfortune. Contador later apologized to a furious Schleck on YouTube.
Many believe that Schleck will dominate the podium in future years, based on his superior time trial, coupled with his significant climbing skill. Young and fast, Schleck has the talent and self-assurance to prevail. While both Contador and Armstrong were duly impressed with the difficulty of this year’s trail, Schleck shrugged, “It doesn’t look too hard.” And he continues to put results behind the bravado. While his last loss to Contador in 2009 was 4:11, this year Schleck lagged by just the critical 39 seconds. This represents the fifth-smallest margin between winner and runner-up in Tour history. Although slick roads sent him down at an early stage in Belgium, the Luxembourg rider went on to win Stages 8 and 17. In assessing Schleck’s performance, an additional factor looms large: Schleck’s brother, Frank, broke his collarbone on the cobblestones in Stage 3. Had he not departed the race, Schleck’s dynamics with Contador would have significantly changed.
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James Fish, Cancellara Wins Stage 19, Contador Will Win the 2010 Tour de France, Epoch Times
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Simon Lambert, 2010 Tour de France Predictions, Eat Sleep Bet
Juliet Macur, Third Time Is a Relief as Contador Takes the Tour
Alex Duff, Alberto Contador Seals Third Tour de France Win in Four Years, Bloomberg
Bonnie D. Ford, The Whole Story Behind This Year’s Tour, ESPN
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