PARIS // Carlos Sastre was officially crowned Tour de France champion last night after finishing in the heart of the peloton as it crossed the line on the Champs-Elysees. The stage itself was won in a bunch sprint finish by the Belgian rider Gert Steegmans - but in reality it was Sastre's day. For the Spaniard, it was the biggest win of his career and the first time he had even finished on the podium at the Tour.
He ended the 2006 Tour in fourth, but was later moved up the order when the race winner Floyd Landis failed a drugs test. Appropriately, Sastre finished yesterday's stage surrounded by his CSC Saxo Bank teammates, whose unselfish efforts in the mountains gave him the platform for overall victory. Despite the excitement of a close finish on the final day of the Tour, Sastre, 33, as the man in yellow, was the main talking point as he continued Spain's recent domination of the race - his countrymen have won each of the last three Tours since Lance Armstrong's retirement in 2005.
He dedicated the win to his late brother-in-law, climber Jose Maria Jimenez, who died from a heart attack in 2002 and whose nickname "the wild one" came from his attacking style on the climbs. It was that sort of attacking style which sealed the yellow jersey for Sastre when he broke clear at the base of Alpe d'Huez on stage 18, and a lack of it which denied Cadel Evans the top spot for a second successive year.
After the Alps and the penultimate stage time trial, the runner-up Evans admitted: "I just didn't have the legs to win," while Sastre talked about "a dream come true" of winning the Tour. Both riders know they will never get a better chance to win the race, with 2007 winner Alberto Contador certain to be back in the fold in 12 months time. His Astana team had been banned by Tour organisers this year because of their 2007 doping discrepancies at the Tour at a time before Contador and his current teammates were even on the team.
But after this year's race, in which three riders were thrown out for doping - Riccardo Ricco, Manuel Beltran and Moises Duenas - there were the obvious questions about whether Sastre had won clean. The Spaniard admitted there would be suspicion over the result, but was adamant he had won without doping. He said: "I know who I am and how I've sacrificed everything to achieve this victory." Austria's Bernhard Kohl rounded off the podium in third place and also won the King of the Mountains competition. The green jersey - for the Tour's leading sprinter - was claimed by the Spanish rider Oscar Freire, while Andy Schleck claimed the white jersey for the leading young rider.
Wim Vansevenant claimed the prize of the lantern rouge, for the rider finishing in last place. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org