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Albert Contador wins Tour de France; Lance Armstrong is third

The drama for next year's race is already set after some chilly interaction between the two teammates on the winner's podium.

July 27, 2009|Chuck Culpepper

PARIS — It did look weird. Sure, the Arc de Triomphe in the background had not budged, but somebody bearing remarkable resemblance to Lance Armstrong had.

To a viewer staring up Avenue Champs-Elysees on a golden Sunday, the Texas-size presence to the right of the winner on the Tour de France podium seemed to dangle oddly over there, as if some frustrated choreographer had gone mildly loopy.

After Armstrong's seven Julys (1999-2005) spent so squarely in winner's middle that it seemed he might have to start paying property taxes there, this shift did mean something even if Armstrong's third-place finish did please him and even if, at 37, he did become the second-oldest cyclist to reach the 1-2-3 podium.

To the world's fevered cluster of cycling nuts, and to those who love any good diva duel, Armstrong's place below winner Alberto Contador might have said: Go ahead and hurry up, 2010.

For the 2010 Tour de France should present an upgraded Armstrong at age 38 against an even more seasoned Contador at 27.

For backlighting, it will have the memory that the handshake between the two teammates on that podium of Sunday did not come anywhere close to qualifying for the hall of fame of warm handshakes, nor the podium camaraderie in the pantheon of podium camaraderie.

It will have Contador's statement to a French TV station that his biggest stress in this Tour victory came "in the team hotel," where Armstrong was his Astana teammate for the three-week, 2,100-mile grind, a jealous reality that will desist in 2010 when Armstrong spearheads his own, new, American team.

And then, just for added glee, it will have Contador's statement, as quoted by the Associated Press, that he and Armstrong proved "totally incompatible."

"On a personal level, I had a difficult Tour and now I'll be sure to enjoy this win," said Contador, whose considerable wingspan and toothy smile both flared when he crossed the finish line amid the peloton and extended his arms to denote his second Tour de France title. "I'm extremely happy.

"At times I felt like a child again. I feel a great sense of relief, a release of tension. Next year, it will be different, perhaps less complicated than this time."

Factor in that the second-place finisher Andy Schleck is only 24 years old after only his second Tour. And to the increased American interest from Armstrong, add a young British factor that includes the fourth-place finisher Bradley Wiggins and the six-time stage winner Mark Cavendish, the sprinter who said, "It has been an amazing Tour for British cycling."

Already on Sunday in Paris, rare hubbub greeted third place.

When Armstrong's name was announced during the podium process, the cheer along the Champs -- with just one or two audible jeers mixed in -- easily rivaled that produced for the actual winner.

When Armstrong navigated back to the Astana bus, the commotion around that bloated vehicle intensified so that a four-deep wall of people -- many of them American -- all but wrestled with one another for autographs, held cameras aloft and chanted, "Lance! Lance! Lance!"

Teammate Contador showed up moments later, and a relative quiet held until a lesser chant of "Contador!" did attain decent oomph.

The big screen above the avenue, in a departure from typical third-place decorum, at one point showed Armstrong holding his newborn son with his three older children gathered around, the older three in winner's yellow.

But then, when the Astana team went back out for a celebratory ride up the Champs-Elysees more than an hour after the Tour de France wrapped up, Contador rode on the front right, beaming, while Armstrong rode apart to the left in the pack, even though as their loop concluded, Armstrong pedaled away toward the bus while Contador had to stop to pose with five police officers who wanted a picture.

After all, by the way, he did win.

He did become the fourth consecutive winner from his burgeoning athletic powerhouse of a nation to make the Spanish flag rise the highest, counting himself in 2007, Oscar Pereiro in 2006 and Carlos Sastre in 2008 .

A native of Pinto in southeast Madrid with a fascination for birds and the reputation as the world's best cyclist of the moment, Contador did excel in manifold tasks from climbing to time trials during the month.

It's just that he occupied a ticklish position when he held aloft that vase they awarded him during the podium proceedings.

For the second time since crossing the line, he held up two fingers to signify his two titles in the last three years (wrapped around a 2008 Tour missed when the Tour uninvited his newly joined team because of doping cases).

And in this unusual case, everybody looking on knew that if the guy just to Contador's left tried to show his number of titles on his fingers, he'd have to drop and probably shatter the vase.


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