Spain's Alberto Contador won the doping-scarred Tour de France on Sunday, at 24 the youngest champ since Jan Ullrich in 1997. His margin of victory, 23 seconds over Cadel Evans, was the second narrowest in 104 races.
Contador called it a "dream come true." In 2004, he sustained an aneurism during a race, collapsing with severe convulsions. Surgery a few hours later prevented irreversible brain damage. Asked about the surgery, Contador took off his yellow cap and showed a large scar running down the side of his head.
"It really marked me for life," he said, "but allowed me to better savor this moment."
Contador, four years older than the youngest winner (Henri Cornet in the second-ever race in 1904), seemed destined for second until Wednesday, when the Rabobank team expelled leader Michael Rasmussen and accused him of lying about his whereabouts before the Tour to evade doping controls. Previously, Alexandre Vinokourov, considered a favorite, and Cristian Moreni failed tests and dropped out.
"It's not a nice feeling. You don't want to win like that," said Johan Bruyneel, Contador's team manager. "The way things were, most likely (Rasmussen) would have won the Tour de France."
Rasmussen's exit lifted Evans to second and American Levi Leipheimer to third, and the standings held through Sunday's stage won by Daniele Bennati. Contador, who said he was inspired by Lance Armstrong's book about beating cancer, kissed the yellow jersey on the podium.
Said Armstrong, the seven-time champ: "I think we've seen the future of Spanish cycling and, perhaps, international cycling."