PARIS (AP) _ Alberto Contador won his third Tour de France in four years on Sunday, heralding the arrival of a new cycling superstar even as seven-time champion Lance Armstrong finished the race for the last time.
The 27-year-old Spaniard sealed the victory after holding off a challenge from main rival Andy Schleck of Luxembourg in Saturday’s individual time trial.
Their battle for the title provided a glimpse of what should become the tour’s next great rivalry. They dueled wheel-to-wheel until separated in Stage 15, when Schleck’s chain broke on a climb in the Pyrenees, then again on a lung-busting ride up the Col du Tourmalet that was the highlight of the race.
Schleck finished 39 seconds back, and Denis Menchov of Russia was third overall.
Mark Cavendish of Britain claimed his fifth stage victory this Tour and 15th in his career in a sprint at the end of the 20th and final stage _ largely a ceremonial 63.7-mile course from Longjumeau to Paris.
Contador exchanged hugs with his Astana teammates, who began chanting “Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole” on the Champs-Elysees, where thousands of fans lined the route to cheer the cyclists.
Armstrong completed his last Tour in 23rd place, 39:20 after Contador, his former teammate and rival. It was a far cry from the Texan’s solid third-place finish in 2009, his return from a four-year retirement from the Tour.
Armstrong’s last ride in his beloved race began in controversy and ended under a cloud of suspicion, following accusations by former teammate Floyd Landis that Armstrong used performance-enhancing drugs to win. Landis was stripped of his 2006 Tour title after a positive test and later admitted doping. His allegations against Armstrong and others helped launch a federal investigation.
Armstrong has never tested positive and as he has in the past, again denied any involvement in doping.
On Sunday, his RadioShack team was temporarily barred from starting for wearing an improper jersey _ and the race started about 15 minutes late as a result.
TV images showed Armstrong and his teammates putting on normal jerseys with their correct race numbers after they tried to wear a black jersey with “28” on the back. The figure was chosen to honor the 28 million people fighting cancer, one of the themes Armstrong’s Livestrong Foundation focuses on.
But International Cycling Union officials said Armstrong and his RadioShack teammates had to change their jerseys and wear the official race numbers, according to UCI rules.
Contador sipped champagne during the leisurely ride and held up three fingers to signal his third Tour win. His Astana team was likely to quash any attempt for Schleck to break away Sunday _ and they had a playful ride.
Also during the ride, Contador, who is known as ‘El Pistolero’ for his trademark finger-firing gesture, took a blue plastic squirt gun and sprayed photographers.
Contador joined Greg LeMond, Louison Bobet and Philippe Thys as a three-time Tour champion. Armstrong is the most successful Tour rider with seven consecutive wins, between 1999 and 2005.