A jubilant Alberto Contador claimed his second Tour de France yellow jersey in Paris on Sunday to hand Spain their fourth consecutive victory in the world's biggest bike race.
Astana team leader Contador, the 2007 champion, finished the 21-stage 96th edition, held over a distance of 3459.5 km, with a significant winning margin. Luxembourg's Andy Schleck was the runner-up at 4min 11sec while seven-time champion Lance Armstrong, returning to the Tour for the first time since 2005, was third at 5:24.
Contador, 26, finished the 21st and final stage into Paris wearing the yellow jersey he claimed back on stage 15 at Verbier in the Swiss Alps.
He also won the stage 18 time trial, a victory which gave him an unassailable lead before the penultimate stage to the legendary Mont Ventoux where his rivals failed to loosen his grip on the lead. As Britain's Mark Cavendish claimed a remarkable sixth stage win, his first on the Champs Elysees but his 10th from the past two editions, Contador threw his arms in the air in triumph.
The Spaniard first won the race in 2007, and since then he has shown his class by winning the Tour of Italy and the Tour of Spain - winning both races in 2008 when his team were not invited to the Tour de France. “There was always a risk I could lose right up until the end, but I held on,” he said.
“The Tour is the hardest race in the world, but this year it was particularly difficult. That's why I am so happy.”
After a quiet start to the race during which Astana teammate Armstrong came close to taking command Contador moved up a gear once the action moved to the mountains.
He distanced most of his rivals, including Armstrong, on the first summit finish to Arcalis in the Pyrenees on stage seven and then won the second summit finish at Verbier to pull on the yellow jersey.
After some thrilling stages in the Alps, where Schleck proved his only worthy rival, Contador continued to dominate before ending any doubts over his superiority by winning the second time trial.
There was suspense right up to Saturday's penultimate stage but sadly for the organisers — who had hoped the yellow jersey battle would end there — it was all about the podium places. On Saturday Armstrong did enough to hold on to a third place which was under threat from Britain's Bradley Wiggins, who finished fourth.