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Contador of Spain captures doping-tainted Tour de France

By JAMEY KEATEN, Associated Press Writer
July 29, 2007

2007 Tour de France's winner Alberto Contador of Spain, center, waves from the podium with second-placed Cadel Evans of Australia and third-placed Levi Leipheimer of the U.S., right, after the 20th and last stage of the 94th Tour de France cycling race, between Marcoussis, south of Paris, and the Champs Elysees avenue in Paris, Sunday, July 29, 2007.

PARIS (AP) -- Alberto Contador won the doping-scarred Tour de France on Sunday, a new, young and unlikely winner for the three-week race shaken to its core by scandals.

The 24-year-old rider for the Discovery Channel team was the youngest champion since Jan Ullrich of Germany in 1997. He was the first Spaniard to stand on the winner's podium since the last of Miguel Indurain's five titles in 1995.

His margin of victory -- just 23 seconds ahead of Cadel Evans of Australia -- was the second-narrowest in the Tour's 104-year history, even after 2,200 miles of racing through Britain, Belgium, Spain and France.

"I think we've seen the future of Spanish cycling and perhaps international cycling," seven-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong said.

Contador had seemed destined for second place until the Tour was hit by a bombshell just five days from the finish: the ouster of race leader Michael Rasmussen. His Rabobank team accused the Dane of having lied about his whereabouts before the Tour to evade doping controls.

Rasmussen's departure catapulted Contador into the race lead, Evans to the runner-up spot, and U.S. rider Levi Leipheimer into third. Those standings held through the closing four days -- including a thrilling time trial Saturday that Leipheimer won and the 91-mile final ride Sunday to Paris' fan-lined Champs-Elysees from Marcoussis, west of the capital. The stage was won by Daniele Bennati of Italy.

Contador high-fived and hugged his teammates after crossing the line. His original goal was to take the white jersey for the best young rider. In the end, he got both white and yellow jerseys.

Contador was a new star for a race that has been searching for a successor to Armstrong, who retired in 2005, and which is struggling to repair its credibility after two straight years marred by doping.

The 2006 winner, Floyd Landis, did not defend his crown because of doping charges hanging over him. This Tour turned into a circus after it emerged that Rasmussen was competing despite missing doping controls in May and June, and after Kazakh star Alexandre Vinokourov -- a pre-race favorite -- and Cristian Moreni of Italy failed doping tests. They and their teams left the race, and police raided their hotels, searching for doping products.

Instead of putting the doping cloud left by Landis behind them, Tour organizers again found themselves having to contend daily with the issue. The feel-good factor generated by the race's July 7 start in London, England -- watched by millions of fans -- quickly faded.

A split emerged as Tour organizers blamed the sport's governing body for not telling them that Rasmussen had missed doping tests. The organizers said they would have prevented him from taking the start had they known. Some newspapers in France declared the Tour dead and said it should be suspended until the sport cleans up.

 

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