Paris Alberto Contador stood atop the podium at the Tour de France on Sunday for the third time in four years, struggling to rein in his emotions as Spain’s national anthem echoed across the wide boulevard of the Champs-Elysees.
Off to one side, Lance Armstrong applauded and then, without much fanfare, headed toward the exit.
“I need a cold beer,” he said when asked his thoughts at the finish line.
Rarely has the emergence of a sport’s newest superstar dovetailed so neatly with the departure of the last one.
Contador held off a next-to-last-day challenge from Andy Schleck of Luxembourg, his runner-up for a second consecutive year, draining much of the drama from the 20th and final stage. Denis Menchov of Russia was third overall.
Armstrong completed his last Tour in 23rd place, 39:20 behind Contador, his former teammate and rival. His crash-filled journey was a far cry from the third-place finish he posted in 2009 on his return from a four-year retirement.
Yet the sport the 38-year-old American leaves behind hardly wants for budding stars eager to lead the way.
Schleck, for one, vows he’ll win the yellow jersey one day. That promise could produce the next great Tour rivalry.
Contador joins Greg LeMond, Louison Bobet and Philippe Thys as a three-time Tour champions.