Alberto Contador wins 2010 Tour de France

Spanish rider Alberto Contador has claimed his third Tour de France win after securing the victory yesterday in a 32.3 mile long individual time trial that ran across the French countryside from Bordeaux to Pauillac. Despite being pushed to the limit by his rival, Luxembourg’s Andy Schleck, Contador extended his lead in the race, winning by 39 seconds. Today, he’ll finish off the 2010 Tour by taking the ceremonial ride into Paris wearing the leader’s Yellow Jersey, while the top sprinters vie for one last stage win on the Champs Elysees.

For the past three weeks, the world’s best cyclists have dueled one another across France, fighting it out most spectacularly in the Alps and the Pyrenees. This year’s route threw some of the toughest climbs ever at the riders, and it was Contador and Schleck who were clearly the two best cyclists in the Peloton. Schleck actually led the race heading into Monday, when the two riders were on the final climb the day. Misfortune hit on the slopes of the Port de Balès, when Schleck dropped a chain and had to stop to make a quick repair. Sensing an opportunity, Contador attacked, gaining more than 30 seconds, and taking the lead in the race for the first time. He never looked back and Schleck was never able to recover.

Today marks the final stage of the race, a 63.6 mile ride from Longjumeau to Paris. Traditionally, the riders don’t attack the Yellow Jersey on the final day, allowing the leader to ride to the finish line in a glorified victory lap. Once there, Contador will take the top of the podium in Yellow, while Schleck will win the White Jersey, which is awarded each year to the Tour’s best young rider under the age of 25. France’s Anthony Charteau has won the Polka Dot Jersey, which goes to the King of the Mountain, the Tour’s best climber, each year. The final jersey to be awarded will be the Green Jersey, which goes to the best sprinter in the race. Sprint points will still be up for grabs on today’s final stage, with three riders in a position to win the title.

In his final ride in the Tour de France, seven-time winner Lance Armstrong finishes in 23rd place, nearly 40 minutes behind Contador.

[Photo credit: Reuters]

The Tour de France begins today!

The world’s greatest cycling event, the Tour de France, gets underway today when the best riders on the planet descend on Rotterdam in the Netherlands for a short 8.9km (5.5 mile) prologue that will help set the early tone to this year’s event. Ahead of the teams sits 20 more grueling stages, spread out over three weeks, that includes six mountain stages, with three summit finishes, one of which ends on the dreaded Tourmalet, a brutal peak in the Pyrenees that will likely decide this year’s winner.

The race properly gets underway tomorrow with a mostly flat first stage over 223.5km (138.8 miles) between Rotterdam and Brussels. This stage is dedicated to the sports greatest rider, Eddy Merckx, who is celebrating his 65th birthday, and he’ll likely be on hand to welcome the cyclists across the finish line. But the peloton shouldn’t take this stage lightly, as the Belgian crosswinds can shred the field and leave the unaware chasing the leaders on the first day.

Typically, the early stages of the Tour belong to the sprinters, who rack up points on the flat routes as they compete for the coveted Green Jersey. But this year, the riders will be put to the test early on, as Stage 2 is a 201km (124.8 miles) affair that goes from Brussels to Spa, with a few minor hills thrown into the mix. While the Tour’s top climbers and over all contenders will barely notice these bumps in the road, the sprinters are likely to drop from contention very early this year.

Stage 3 on Tuesday is no walk in the park either. The 213km (132.3 miles) route will be flat and fast, just as the sprinters like it. But there are nearly 9 miles worth of cobblestones for the riders to maneuver, and the riders hate cobblestones. Lance Armstrong himself has even predicted “carnage” on this stage following a scouting ride a few days back. The rough, and uneven, cobblestones are known for causing crashes, and ending the race early for some of the riders.

This year’s top contenders are pretty much the same as last year’s top finishers. 38-year old Lance Armstrong remains among the best riders in the field, although his time trial form is not what it once was. Brothers Andy and Frank Schleck of Luxembourg are both legitimate contenders, with Frank recently winning the Tour de Suisse, a great tune-up race for Le Tour. Australian Cadel Evans has been a perennial contender who has just missed out on winning on several occasions, and he is riding with his strongest team ever. But the man to beat is obviously last year’s champ, Alberto Contador, the best all around rider in the world. But Contador won’t have the powerful team around him that he had in his previous two Tour victories, and it remains to be seen if he can win without them.

The Tour de France is a sporting event like no other, and over the next few weeks, a dramatic spectacle will play out across France, culminating with cycling’s next great champion arriving in Paris, and gliding down the Champs-Elysees in yellow.

Viva Le Tour!