PARIS — Alberto Contador stood atop the podium at the Tour de France on Sunday for the third time in four years, struggling to rein in his emotions as Spain's national anthem echoed across the wide boulevard of the Champs-Elysees.
Off to one side, Lance Armstrong applauded then headed toward the exit.
"I need a cold beer," he said when asked his thoughts at the finish line.
Rarely has the emergence of a superstar dovetailed so neatly with the departure of the last one.
Contador held off a challenge Saturday from Luxembourg's Andy Schleck, runnerup for a second consecutive year, draining much of the drama from the 20th and final stage Sunday.
"I suffered to get this result," Contador said before hoisting the victor's cup. "I don't have words to express what I feel."
Contador, 27, exchanged hugs with his Astana teammates, who began chanting "Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole" on the Champs-Elysees, where thousands of fans lined the route to cheer the cyclists.
Armstrong completed his last Tour in 23rd, 39:20 back. His crash-filled journey was a far cry from the third-place finish he posted in 2009 on his return from a four-year retirement. Still, he had no regrets.
"I wouldn't say that it's ruined," the American said. "In 10 years, when I look back on the 2010 Tour, it won't be the memory that I have."
And the sport that the seven-time champion, 38, 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 came in Stage 15 when Schleck, wearing the yellow jersey, had his bike's chain come undone. Contador sped ahead — upsetting some aficionados — and by the stage finish, he had taken yellow and 39 seconds on Schleck, who wasn't happy.
But by the time they reached Paris, the coronation trumped any lingering controversy.
Armstrong, the most successful Tour rider ever, still faces accusations by former teammate Floyd Landis that he used performance-enhancing drugs.
But he's happy, for the time being, to be out of the limelight.
"Right now, I'm going to the Bahamas; I'm gonna put my feet up and forget about riding the bike for a little bit."