Contador Holds on to Earn Unlikely but Hollow Victory ; CYCLING
Alasdair Fotheringham; Stephen Farrand, The Independent (London, England)
Yesterday Alberto Contador became only the fifth Spaniard to win the Tour de France, but not even on the final stage could the race's persistent shadow of doping disappear.
Rumours that the riders would stop a metre before the finish to protest against the number of drugs scandals only completely ceased when the sprinters unleashed their usual charge for the line. The win went to Italy's Daniele Bennati.
What prevented the strike was an apparent lack of agreement between the riders - in its way appropriate, given the amount of debate over the real value of Contador's victory.
The forcible exit of the Danish race leader Michael Rasmussen late on Wednesday evening, after his Rabobank team discovered he had lied over his whereabouts last month, left Contador, 24, in front with four days left to race. Rather than moving into yellow on the road, the Spaniard was lying half-asleep in bed the same night when he was informed that he had become the race leader. Such a bizarre handover of power did not diminish the Tour's reputation for being the world's leading sports soap opera, sometimes conducted on two wheels, but this year, at least, more often not.
Contador also discovered that after Rasmussen's exit, more than being purely prestigious, the yellow jersey is also an invitation for questions about doping. Long since cleared by his national federation and cycling's governing body, the International Cycling Union, of any links to last year's doping inquiry Operation Puerto, the Spaniard nonetheless faced prolonged questioning about banned drugs, a real baptism of fire for a rider in only his second Tour.
Contador's strong defence of his race lead in Saturday's crucial long time trial, in any case - combined with his straightforward answers over doping - showed he was a worthy holder of the yellow jersey.
In pancake-flat terrain that did anything but suit the lightly built climber, Contador fended off Cadel Evans and his Discovery Channel team-mate Levi Leipheimer to finish a mere 23 seconds ahead of the Australian and 31 ahead of the American overall. It was the second smallest winning margin in Tour history after Greg LeMond's eight-second triumph over Laurent Fignon in 1989 and Contador was the first to admit his surprise.
He said: "I only came here to try for the white jersey [worn by the best young rider in the race]. …