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How the 2009 Tour was won

Alberto Contador
Alberto Contador's victory in this year's Tour was far from straightforward

By Alex Murray

Spain's Alberto Contador claimed his second Tour de France victory but there was also glory for the British riders over the past three weeks.

Bradley Wiggins equalled the best Tour finish by a Briton with his fourth place matching Robert Millar's success in 1984.

While Mark Cavendish also claimed six stage victories and became the first Briton to win on the Champs Elysees in Paris.

BBC Sport looks at the decisive moments of the 2009 Tour.

Stage 1 - Monaco Individual Time Trial
Fabian Cancellara

Contador may not have taken yellow but he put time into his most obvious rivals, including 22 seconds against Lance Armstrong - a slender margin but it still made him the best-placed contender.

With debate raging as to who would have the whip hand in the Astana team, it was an early attempt to stamp his authority on the strongest outfit in the race.

Having Fabian Cancellara in yellow suited Astana, as it meant that Team Saxo Bank would have to work in the first week to defend the jersey, using valuable energy early in the race rather than saving it for the mountains.

Stage 3 - Marseille - La Grande Motte
Mark Cavendish

A seemingly innocuous ride to a seaside resort turned into a train wreck for many, as crosswinds split the peloton and everyone was forced to chase Team Columbia.

As Columbia took out their frustrations on the entire field, only Armstrong found himself on the right side of a 40-second gap, leapfrogging Contador into third place and with a 19 second advantage.

Contador faced accusations of being the source of the split but the Schleck brothers, Wiggins and everyone else also lost time, giving Astana numerical advantage at the top of classement generale.

Mark Cavendish made history by winning the third stage to become the first Briton to hold the green jersey for two days in a row.

Stage 4 - Montpellier - Team Time Trial
Armstrong drove on Astana but he missed out on yellow by less than a second

A disastrous day for Carlos Sastre, Cadel Evans and Denis Menchov as their hopes were punctured by the technically challenging discipline and course.

Saxo Bank were kept within touching distance by the guiding force of Cancellara, who dragged his team to the line, while Garmin's powerful-looking squad failed to quite meet expectations on the sinuous lanes.

Astana judged it to perfection, putting Armstrong within hundredths of a second of yellow, leaving Saxo Bank to defend Cancellara's position into the Pyrenees, thus expending yet more energy.

Stage 7 - Barcelona - Andorra Arcalis
Rinaldo Nocentini

The opening of hostilities on the first serious mountain stage saw 'El Pistolero' - Contador - unholster his guns and launch a savage acceleration that clawed back his deficit to Armstrong and put 40" between him and his nearest rival outside of Astana - Wiggins.

No one could match the Spaniard as he powered away defiantly into a headwind that had dissuaded his rivals from launching their own attacks.

Wiggins, who moved up to fifth overall, was heard shouting "That's what I'm talking about!" on the climb, announcing his arrival as a grand-tour rider and attacking the select group of grand tour winners and podium riders, some of whom were baffled and infuriated by his presence.

Was Contador's attack against Armstrong or team orders, or was it just an impulsive move of the sort that Johan Bruyneel has tried to curb in the young Spaniard?

Rinaldo Nocentini took the yellow jersey, making a perfect situation for Contador, as it forced another team to control the peloton in the second week, a section of the race usually dominated by breakaways and sprints.

Stage 15 - Verbier
Alberto Contador

After an uneasy peace in the second week, during which AG2R mounted a determined campaign to keep Nocentini in yellow, the race came alive on the road to the Swiss mountain resort.

Again it was Contador who provided the impetus, riding away from a group of Armstrong, the Schleck brothers and Wiggins after Saxo Bank had tried to nullify his threat by forcing the pace on the early slopes.

Behind him Andy Schleck lost 43" in his vain pursuit, while Wiggins moved up into the top three, having dropped Armstrong in the closing kilometres.

The seven-time winner was distanced by his main rivals but still retained second place by limiting his losses with the help of team-mate Andreas Kloden.

Stage 17 - La Grand Bornand
Alberto Contador

Contador countered the threat of the Schlecks on the slopes of the Col de Romme and Col de la Columbiere, but at the heart of the stage was the concerted effort to attack Wiggins by his rivals.

Before and after the stage it was the threat of Wiggins in Stage 18's individual time trial that marked Contador's analysis, not the climbing of Andy and Frank Schleck, the only riders able to stay with him as he distanced everyone including Kloden, again raising questions about team unity in the Astana camp.

Under an unrelenting attack from all sides, Wiggins was eventually dropped by Armstrong close to the final summit, as the American found his climbing legs and pushed to secure a podium place in his comeback Tour.

Wiggins dropped back to fifth at the end of the stage and Armstrong moved to fourth with the Schleck brothers occupying the remaining podium places behind Contador, whom they could not shake despite isolating him.

Contador now held a lead of 2'27" over Andy Schleck and, as a much stronger time-trial rider, could expect to extend his advantage the next day around Lake Annecy.

Stage 18 - Individual Time Trial - Annecy
Bradley Wiggins

As the time trial champion of Spain, Contador had been expected not to lose time to his rivals, but few expected him to beat everyone, Cancellara included, on a course which seemed perfectly suited to the specialists like Wiggins.

While Andy Schleck rode well, he could do nothing to stop Contador opening his lead up to 4'11", a commanding position with only the challenge of Mont Ventoux standing between him and victory in Paris.

Armstrong suffered greatly over the course to force his way into a podium spot, as Frank Schleck was once again exposed as vastly deficient in the race against the clock, sliding to sixth, behind Kloden.

Wiggins moved back up to fourth, eleven seconds behind Armstrong, stymied by a strong headwind in the final section, but still with an outside chance of moving onto the podium on the slopes of Ventoux.

As the race organisers had hoped, everything would be decided on the slopes of the 'Giant of Provence', the race's last climb.

Stage 20 - Montelimar - Mont Ventoux
Bradley Wiggins

If there were any doubts left over Contador's quality as champion, they were soon dispelled.

More than 500,000 people were on the roadside for the climb to the finish on Ventoux, and saw the Spaniard match everything Andy Schleck could throw at him before they crossed the line together.

Down the road, the battle for podium places intensified and Kloden cracked early to leave a three-way fight for third between Armstrong, Wiggins and Frank Schleck.

The elder Schleck continuously attacked but could not shake the Texan, while Wiggins was battling bravely to cling on to both of their wheels.

In the end, Armstrong actually gained two seconds on Frank to cement his podium place on his return to the the Tour after a four-year absence.

Wiggins was eventually dropped but stayed in fourth place by three seconds after a superb final effort brought him home 20 seconds after Frank Schleck.

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see also
Contador seals 2009 Tour victory
26 Jul 09 |  Cycling
Tour de France final weekend photos
26 Jul 09 |  Cycling
Brave Wiggins holds on to fourth
25 Jul 09 |  Cycling
Wildfires rage in southern Europe
24 Jul 09 |  Europe
Cavendish claims record Tour win
24 Jul 09 |  Cycling
Wiggins boosts Tour podium hopes
23 Jul 09 |  Cycling
Contador moves closer to Tour win
22 Jul 09 |  Cycling

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