PARIS — Alberto Contador won the Tour de France for a second time Sunday, and Lance Armstrong capped his return to the race with an impressive third-place finish.
Mark Cavendish of Britain collected his sixth stage win of this year’s Tour in a sprint after the 164-kilometre course ride from Montereau-Fault-Yonne to the Champs-Elysees.
Over nearly 3,500 km and 21 stages of racing over three weeks, Contador repelled many challenges in the mountains, excelled in the two time-trials — winning a pivotal race against the clock in the 18th stage — and won the first Alpine stage.
Andy Schleck of Luxembourg, Contador’s biggest rival among title contenders in the mountains, was second overall.
Contador, the 2007 champion, also had to battle a rearguard action within his Astana team, where the comeback of Armstrong to the Tour after 3 1/2 years of retirement raised questions about who would be the team leader.
“It has been an especially difficult Tour for me, but I savour it and it is more special because of it,” Contador said after the prize ceremony.
The subtext to the race was the open tension between Armstrong and Contador within Astana — a battle of egos between a proven cycling giant and another making the strong case that he’s one, too.
The body language on the winner’s podium said it all. As he climbed onto the victor’s stage, Armstrong gave a perfunctory handshake to Contador, then heartily shook Schleck’s hand. The quintessential American competitor cast a long sideways glance at the victor’s bowl as Contador took it. Armstrong only gave a quick glance at his own crystal trophy.
The American had his whole clan on hand: his son Luke, twin girls Grace and Isabelle — all dressed in yellow — and their mom, Kristin; and his girlfriend Anna Hansen, with their baby Max in a sling.
Luke got a high-five and a word of congratulations “on the third place of your dad,” from Astana manager Johan Bruyneel outside the team bus.
“Thanks,” the twins said.
By the end of the race, Armstrong was talking less of squabbling within Astana and more about Contador’s greatness as a rider — and admitted his form wasn’t the best.
“I’m realistic. I did everything I could,” Armstrong said. “For me, and even more for my kids, it’s probably a healthy thing for them to see, because they saw their dad that never lost . . . so it’s good for them to see dad get third and still be cool with that and still be happy.”