PARIS (AP) — The Tour de France ended in celebration, with winner Alberto Contador sipping champagne as he rode into the French capital and Mark Cavendish raising his hands in triumph as he once again claimed a stage victory on the Champs-Elysees.
Lance Armstrong finished with a final chance to ride at the front of the field before he begins his wished-for quiet life.
It’s a wish the seven-time Tour champion may not get.
The 2010 Tour de France has been one to savor. It featured an exciting rivalry between Contador and the man he beat for a second straight year, Andy Schleck of Luxembourg. There were classic mountain battles, a time-trial that almost caused an upset, a row, a reconciliation, a final day of sunshine and a show put on for the cheering crowds in Paris.
Asked what was missing from this year’s race, Tour director Christian Prudhomme joked: “A French winner.” The last Frenchman to win the race was Bernard Hinault — 25 years ago.
“But never mind. This competition has been the best we’ve seen for a long time,” Prudhomme said. “There was a super mano-a-mano, there was a magnificent course, there were six French (stage) victories.”
Contador is fast becoming one of cycling’s all-time greats, and the Spaniard could be chasing Armstrong’s record seven victories in a few years. In the meantime, the American veteran stopped by the podium to applaud the young champion and a budding new era in professional cycling.
“I suffered to get this result,” said Contador, before hoisting the victor’s cup with Paris’ Arc de Triomphe in the background. “I don’t have words to express what I feel.”
Cavendish of Britain claimed his fifth stage victory of this Tour and 15th of his career in a sprint at the end of the largely ceremonial final stage into Paris. It was the second year in a row that he had won on the Champs-Elysees, but it wasn’t enough to give him the green jersey as the race’s top sprinter. That honor went to Alessandro Petacchi of Italy, who was second in the final stage, just ahead of Julian Dean of New Zealand.
Anthony Charteau of France won the polka-dot jersey as best climber, while Schleck takes home the white jersey for being the best young rider for a third straight year. Armstrong’s RadioShack squad won the team competition.
Schleck promised not to make it easy for Contador to rewrite cycling history over the next few years.
“I’ll be back here 10 more times and I can stand up there in yellow,” he said.
The Tour riders allowed Armstrong to ride at the front for one final time when they reached the eight laps of the Champs-Elysees, before the Texan faded back into the pack.
Armstrong completed his last Tour in 23rd place, 39:20 behind Contador, his former Astana teammate and rival. His disappointing, crash-filled race was a far cry from his third-place finish in 2009 after he ended a nearly four-year retirement.
Armstrong is the most successful Tour rider with wins from 1999 to 2005. His last ride in his beloved race began in controversy and ended under a cloud of suspicion, following accusations by former U.S. Postal teammate Floyd Landis that Armstrong used performance-enhancing drugs during his heyday.
Landis was stripped of his 2006 Tour title after a positive test and later admitted doping. His allegations against Armstrong and others helped launch a federal investigation. Armstrong has never tested positive and has repeatedly denied any involvement in doping.
In spite of the accusations, fans still appreciate Armstrong, especially for the work he has done to raise money to fight cancer since he overcome testicular cancer before his remarkable Tour run.
Jennifer Elliott, 42, from Denver, was in tears as she asked Armstrong to sign a picture of a friend who his battling the disease.
“We came here because we love cycling. We love France. I am moved,” she said.
AP Sports Writer Samuel Petrequin and Associated Press Writer Jamey Keaten contributed to this report.