Three years ago, Alberto Contador was lying in a hospital bed recovering from a brain aneurism. He drew inspiration from reading a book about Lance Armstrong, the cancer survivor and seven-time Tour de France champion.
Now Contador has his own inspiring comeback story that, like Armstrong's, ended with a victory in the Tour de France on Sunday.
"It's an extraordinary joy," said Contador, who collapsed with the aneurism during a race in Spain in 2004. The Spaniard kissed his winner's yellow jersey on the podium against the backdrop of the Arc de Triomphe.
Contador's victory ride provided a brief moment of celebration for a Tour that has been battered by two weeks of doping scandals and allegations.
Contador, 24, was this year's unlikely winner for Discovery Channel after former race leader Michael Rasmussen was sent home earlier in the Tour for allegedly lying to his team and the pre-race favorite Alexandre Vinokourov failed a doping test.
Contador high-fived and hugged his teammates at the end. His original goal was to take the white jersey for the best young rider. In the end, he got both white and yellow.
Asked on French television about his 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," Contador said, "but allowed me to better savor this moment.
"This year, I hoped to win the white jersey. I did not know that with the white jersey, the yellow one would come, too."
From its start in London on July 7, when millions of spectators turned out, fans' signs like "No to Doping" increasingly lined the course, the AP reports.
He gets a 450,000-euro ($613,000) prize and, according to British rider Bradley Wiggins, the Tour de France winner can expect a three-year contract worth $2 million.
One of four brothers from a Madrid suburb, Contador was one of nine riders expelled from last year's Tour after being linked to a blood-doping ring in the Spanish capital.
He denied wrongdoing and was cleared by cycling officials to carry on racing.
“It was a mistake,'' Contador said last week. He was then with the Liberty Seguros team whose manager Manolo Saiz was arrested as part of the police investigation into the ring. ``I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Saiz was cleared in March by a Spanish judge, Antonio Serrano, who said in his ruling that no crime was committed, even if there was a lack of fair play.
Evans, a 30-year-old rider for the Predictor-Lotto team, is the first Australian to get a top-three placing.
Leipheimer, 33, earned his first place on the podium after three previous top-10 finishes. He also rides for Discovery Channel, part-owned by seven-time champion Lance Armstrong who also acts a team consultant.
Armstrong, who quit cycling after his 2005 victory, accompanied the team the last two days.
Today's final stage, a 146-kilometer (91-mile) ride that began in Marcoussis, was typically relaxed before the final sprint, and Contador's lead wasn't threatened. There's a tradition that the race leader isn't challenged on the last road stage, Bloomberg reports.
Prepared by Alexander Timoshik