Contador shows his relief after Saturday's time trial all but sealed his victory
Alberto Contador expressed his relief at resisting the threat of rival Andy Schleck despite not finding his best form at this year's Tour de France.
The Spaniard collected his third title on Sunday - becoming the ninth rider to have won three or more Tours.
"This year there were times when I wasn't exactly on top form. The race was particularly hard," Contador said.
"You feel the pressure from outside and from within yourself. You can't imagine how relieved I am."
Contador, 27, follows Lance Armstrong (seven victories), Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain (all five), and Philippe Thys, Louison Bobet and Greg Lemond (all three) in becoming a triple Tour champion.
I would not say that Andy is stronger than last year. It's just than I was not as good
The Astana rider came under some early pressure in Saturday's decisive time trial as Schleck closed the overall gap to two seconds.
But Contador composed himself to extend his lead from eight seconds at the start of the stage to 39 overall, which allowed him to enjoy a processional stage into Paris on Sunday.
Schleck, the 25-year-old from Luxembourg, finished four minutes, 11 seconds adrift of Contador when taking the runner-up spot a year ago.
But the man from Pinto, to the south of Madrid, hinted that it was his own fragility rather than Schleck's improvement that made the difference.
"I know Andy well, and he's a great rider," said Contador. "He's going to be a major rival for a long time.
"But I would not say that Andy is stronger than last year. It's just than I was not as good.
He already has so much experience. He will be up there one day
Andy Schleck's team-mate Fabian Cancellara
"I have had bad days on this Tour. I wasn't exactly at my best. A few days before the Tour I was on antibiotics, and I think this affected my form for the first week.
"From a mental point of view it was very complicated. I had to stay focused all the time, especially on the climbing stages.
"Our team perhaps wasn't the strongest but we really supported each other. If you think about the efforts I had to make and the riders I had to follow on the climbs...this was the real key to my victory.
"I think it's the dream of any rider when you're small and you start cycling and you get on your bike.
"From that moment you want to win the Tour. It's the most beautiful race in the world but what goes with that is permanent tension and pressure."
Schleck, who took the white jersey as the best young rider for the third year in a row, matched Contador in the mountain climbs and won two of the most prestigious stages finishing in Morzine-Avoriaz and Col du Tourmalet.
"I don't compare myself to [Contador] actually but I believe we're equal in the mountains now," said the Luxembourger, who enjoyed a 31-second lead before his chain came off on stage 15 and Contador exploited the incident to forge an eight-second gap, the 39-second swing proving his exact margin of overall victory.
His Saxo Bank team-mate Fabian Cancellara, who won Saturday's time trial to add to his victory in the opening prologue, believes Schleck can win the yellow jersey.
"He has not won, but he has gained the confidence that he was close to winning the Tour," said the Swiss rider.
"He already has so much experience. He will be up there one day.
"To lose only 30 seconds on Contador in a time trial is like a victory. It should give him extra motivation for next year."