With win, Contador free of Armstrong
PARIS - Lance Armstrong’s kids were dressed in yellow. He was not.
When the seven-time Tour de France champion returned to the Tour podium yesterday, his family was there. His fans were there. And so was rival and teammate Alberto Contador - wearing the coveted and hard-won yellow jersey.
Contador cruised down the Champs-Elysees to win the Tour for a second time after 2,141 miles over three weeks of racing. He repelled 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 toughest rival in the mountains, was second overall.
Contador, who won in 2007, said his biggest battle, however, was against his own Astana team. “It has been an especially difficult Tour for me, but I savor it and it is more special because of it,’’ he said after the prize ceremony.
The body language on the winner’s podium said it all.
As Armstrong, 37, climbed onstage, he gave a perfunctory handshake to Contador, then heartily grabbed Schleck’s hand with both hands.
And as Contador took the victor’s bowl, Armstrong cast a long sideways glance at what had long been his spoils; he gave only a cursory glance to his own crystal trophy.
Asked on French TV what was the hardest moment in this race, Contador replied: “It was in the [team] hotel,’’ without elaborating.
The 26-year-old Contador, who had to sit out last year because Astana was banned because of previous doping scandals, finished in 85 hours 48 minutes 35 seconds. Schleck was 4:11 seconds behind. Armstrong was 5:24 back.
After three straight Tours decided by less than a minute between first and second place, Contador’s margin of victory was the largest since Armstrong collected his last title in 2005. And Armstrong was the second-oldest rider to reach the Tour podium. Raymond Poulidor of France was 40 when he placed third in 1976.
Yesterday, Armstrong and Contador shared glasses of champagne on the ride into Paris. But it seemed to be more about keeping up appearances than a genuine celebration: After a few sips, they tossed away their glasses, only half empty.
“I’m realistic, I did everything I could,’’ Armstrong said before the final stage. “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, and the kids in their class [say], ‘Your dad never loses,’ so it’s good for them to see dad get third and still be cool with that and still be happy.’’
By the end of the race, Armstrong, who admitted his form wasn’t the best, was talking less of squabbling within Astana and more about Contador’s greatness as a rider.
Armstrong’s future is set. He’ll lead a new squad sponsored by
What’s very clear is Armstrong and Contador already are relishing the chance to face off next year, freed of the need to paper over the obvious cracks in their relationship.
“We are totally incompatible,’’ Contador said. “In the end, Armstrong will go his way, and I’ll go mine.’’