Spain's Alberto Contador Wins Tour De France

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The Tour De France saw the end of the Lance Armstrong era, and possibly the start of a new one. Alberto Contador of Spain won the race Sunday for the third time in four years. The victory did not come easy and spurred what could be the next great rivalry in cycling, as Contador barely held off his main competition, Andy Schleck, who crossed the finish line a mere 39 seconds later.

AUDIE CORNISH, Host:

We're back with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.

Spain is a sports powerhouse on a roll. First, tennis hotshot Rafael Nadal won at Wimbledon. Then, Spain took soccer's World Cup. And today, cyclist Alberto Contador claimed his third Tour de France title. He's targeting the seven titles won by Lance Armstrong.

Armstrong finished 23rd this year and says he'll retire.

Eleanor Beardsley reports from Paris.

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Unidentified Announcer: (Foreign language spoken)

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: For the third time, Spanish rider Alberto Contador stood at the top of the Tour de France podium and savored his victory.

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BEARDSLEY: As the Spanish national anthem rang out over a Champs-Elysees packed with fans, the 27-year-old cyclist raised his arms in triumph. Contador and the other 169 riders just spent three weeks cycling more than 2,000 miles, but they still had enough gas in them for a final sprint to the finish line.

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Announcer: (Foreign language spoken)

BEARDSLEY: British cyclist Mark Cavendish won the final stage, but the day was clearly a Spanish one.

Juan Carlos Perez traveled from Madrid with his wife and three children.

JUAN CARLOS PEREZ: You've got your Armstrong, with the seven times. We got Contador. He's going to beat Armstrong. This guy is going to make eight or nine Tour de France. Wait and see. Vive España.

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BEARDSLEY: The Champs-Elysees was also mobbed with fans from the tiny nation of Luxembourg, who turned out to support Andy Schleck. Schleck was only 39 seconds behind Contador, after nearly 92 hours in the saddle. That's the fifth smallest margin of victory in Tour history.

Luxembourgers Joelle Till, Susan Gleis and Guy Emmel say they're not disappointed in Schleck.

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Unidentified Man #1: No.

Unidentified Man #2: No. He may win many Tour de France in the coming years.

Unidentified Woman: He's only 25, 25 years old. So he can win in the future because it's the second time that he is the second here. Next year, it's his turn.

Announcer: (Foreign language spoken)

BEARDSLEY: At times, it was as if Schleck and Contador were joined by an invisible rubber band. The Tour route changes every year, and many say this year's was one of the hardest. There were more mountain stages, perilous cobblestones, and the weather was hotter than usual. Yet neither rider could shake the other.

Far behind was Lance Armstrong, who lost any chance of winning after taking three spills in the first Alpine stage. But he stayed in the race to support his team, RadioShack, which placed first out of the 22 teams with the best cumulative score for its nine riders.

Announcer: (Foreign language spoken).

BEARDSLEY: Sports announcers paid tribute to Armstrong today, and Armstrong himself said he never felt the love of fans like he did this year.

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BEARDSLEY: Even though he rode under the cloud of a doping investigation under way in the U.S., Armstrong seemed to enjoy the roads of France, and slowed down to engage with supporters.

Frenchman Giselain Desainvalle has just purchased a yellow Livestrong bracelet. He says he admires Armstrong's cancer fight.

GISELAIN DESAINVALLE: (Through translator) And it's because of him that I started following the Tour de France. He's a star and an icon. If the Tour is known throughout the world, it's thanks to Lance Armstrong, and everyone agrees with that.

BEARDSLEY: As Armstrong bids farewell to the Tour, organizers hope the new Contador-Schleck rivalry will keep the fans riveted.

For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.

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