Sastre wins Tour de France

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The Independent Online

Carlos Sastre steered clear of trouble on the 21st and final stage of the Tour de France to seal overall victory and continue Spain's recent dominance of the world's greatest cycling race.

Quick Step's Gert Steegmans won the 143-kilometre stage from Etampes to Paris in a sprint on the Champs-Elysees but the day was all about Spain's Sastre, who rides for the dominant Team CSC.

The Madrid-born 33-year-old took a lead of 65 seconds over nearest challenger Cadel Evans into Sunday following the make-or-break time trial a day earlier.

And with the final stage little more than a ceremonial trek into the heart of the French capital, Sastre comfortably maintained his advantage, losing just seven seconds to Evans.

He became the third consecutive Spanish winner of the event, following the victories of Oscar Pereiro in 2006 and Alberto Contador in 2007.

Evans, the Australian who rides for Silence-Lotto, ended runner-up for the second Tour in succession while Gerolsteiner's Bernhard Kohl, of Austria, finished third.

Ever since the Champs-Elysees became the scene of the Tour finale in 1975, the prestigious last stage has often been decided in a sprint finish and that is how it transpired this year too.

In the end, Steegmans chose the perfect moment to strike for home, holding off the threat of a number of challengers in the searing Parisian heat to prevail, finishing in a time of three hours, 51 minutes and 38 seconds.

Colombia's Gerald Ciolek finished second and Oscar Freire came third, with Sastre crossing the line snugly in the bosom of the peloton, 14 seconds back.

Rabobank's Freire ended the Tour with the green jersey for most sprint points while Kohl was crowned King of the Mountains, retaining the polka-dot jersey.

Andy Schleck, who - along with his brother Frank - has been one of the driving forces behind Team CSC's supremacy of the Tour over the past three weeks, finished as best young rider.

Sastre was third in the 2006 Tour and fourth a year later but having managed to preserve his lead following Saturday's crucial time trial, Sunday was always going to end successfully for him.

As is the Tour's etiquette, attacks are frowned upon in the last stage and any attempts at a breakaway by a rival are easy to quell, such is the flat journey to Paris.

As a result, only a crash or an injury would have prevented Sastre from completing his win and the Spaniard managed to negotiate that threat to keep hold of the yellow jersey.

The mood was jovial, especially in the Team CSC camp, as the 145 remaining riders left Etampes - many teams lining up to pose for cameras along the way - but that soon changed as the peloton arrived in Paris three hours later for the traditional eight laps of the famous Champs-Elysees.

Spanish duo Xavier Florencio and Jose Ivan Gutierrez were the first riders to launch a genuine attack, on the second lap, before French champion Nicolas Vogondy and Carlos Barredo did likewise in an escape that lasted 10km.

Both pairings were reeled in by the peloton, which was fronted by a Team CSC intent on keeping an eye on things.

A clutch of others attempted individual breakaways in the final four laps but they were soon aborted, and the riders were grouped together as they closed in on the finishing line for the final time.

The finish was something of a letdown, Steegmans tailing a team-mate before breaking off and striking for home under little pressure.

Arms aloft, he was able to celebrate early, with Ciolek, Freire and Robbie McEwen making their runs too late. It was Steegmans' second stage victory of the Tour.

Moments later, Sastre rolled in calmly and was immediately mobbed by his team-mates before greeting his family.

Afterwards, a delighted Steegmans told Eurosport: "We were saving ourselves for the final circuit and then we let it go.

"With just 100 metres to go we knew it was ours. It was touch and go before that but finally the power came to us and we were able to hold on.

"I am delighted that finally I won and not somebody else. Our team worked really well for me and I have to thank them.

"Any win is great but this win is special, it is a dream, I am full of emotion."