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King Contador hails third win

Alberto Contador stood atop the podium at the Tour de France for the third time in four years yesterday, struggling to rein in his emotions as Spain's national anthem echoed across the Champs-Elysees in Paris

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.

Contador held off a penultimate-stage 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 minutes and 20 seconds behind Contador. Armstrong's crash-filled Tour was a far cry from the third-place finish he posted last year 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, but this year it wasn't always sporting.

The high-drama point in the race -- and the low-point in their avowed friendship -- came in stage 15.

Wearing the yellow jersey, Schleck mounted an attack against Contador on a Pyrenean climb. Suddenly, Schleck's chain came undone. Contador sped ahead, and by the stage finish, had taken yellow and 39 seconds on Schleck -- his margin of overall victory.

Many cycling aficionados cried foul, saying Contador had broken the sport's unwritten etiquette about not taking advantage of unlucky breaks a rider can't control -- especially when he was wearing yellow.

Some fans jeered Contador, and he later apologised on YouTube. Schleck, who was angry at first, eventually patched things up with his rival and urged the crowd to as well.

By the time they wheeled into Paris, the coronation trumped any lingering controversy.

"I suffered to get this result," said Contador, before hoisting the victor's cup with the Arc de Triomphe looming spectacularly in the background. "I don't have words to express what I feel."

Schleck pointed to Contador's yellow shirt.

"This year, it didn't work. I have a rendezvous in one year with that colour there," he said. "I am better than last year because then it (the deficit) was four minutes."

Ireland's Nicholas Roche finished up a creditable 15th overall, but he expressed his disappointment at failing to finish in a higher position.

"I am happy with my 15th place overall but I am the kind of guy who always wants to do better. I would have liked to be closer to the top 10, so there is a bit of disappointment," Roche said.

Britain's Mark Cavendish claimed his fifth stage victory of this Tour -- and 15th in his career -- in a sprint at the end of the 20th and final stage -- largely a ceremonial course from Longjumeau to Paris.

The 27-year-old Contador exchanged hugs with his Astana team-mates, who began chanting "ole, ole, ole, ole" on the Champs-Elysees, where thousands of fans cheered the cyclists.

He now joins Greg LeMond, Louison Bobet and Philippe Thys as a three-time Tour de France champion.