A conquering – and relieved – Contador

Martin Rogers

Nearly a month of sweat and toil ended Sunday, as the Tour de France came to its traditional conclusion smack dab in the center of Paris.

With subplots, scenery, the return of the greatest champion in cycling history and, thankfully, no positive drug tests, 2009 will go down as the year the Tour made a spectacular comeback.

Here we take a look at the big winners and losers of this unique and unpredictable race.

WINNER: Lance Armstrong

The seven-time champion could only finish third this time around, but that represented a major success given his three-year absence from the sport.

Armstrong's improved mood and demeanor endeared him to a French public who had previously been highly skeptical, and he became clearly the biggest story of the race.

With a new team and a full year's preparation behind him, expect big things in 2010.

LOSER: Astana

The Kazakhstan-backed team had the biggest name (Armstrong) and the best rider (Alberto Contador) in the race, yet somehow came away looking disorganized and small-time.

Internal strife means there will be a drastically new look for next season, with Armstrong, director Johan Bruyneel and possibly Contador all moving on.

Astana has money to burn but concerns over late payments and interfering management could hamper its attempts to recruit new talent.

WINNER: Alberto Contador

The combination of the best stage rider in the world with the strongest team supporting him meant that victory for Contador was inevitable.

His success was fully deserved as he proved to be the best climber in the business and a magnificent time-trailer.

At 26, the Spaniard has the ability to challenge his compatriot Miguael Indurain's haul of five Tour titles.

LOSER: Alberto Contador

Rarely has a Tour de France winner had to put up with so much as Contador, who was overshadowed by Armstrong, felt isolated within his own team, and was tainted by unfounded drug allegations.

The expression on Contador's face at the presentation ceremony said it all – more than a celebration, the end of this Tour came as a relief.

WINNER: Mark Cavendish

Cavendish suffered disappointment at the 2008 Olympics, where he was the only member of the Great Britain team not to land a medal.

But he made up for it with a spectacular Tour, winning six stages and proving virtually unbeatable in group sprints.

LOSER: Levi Leipheimer

Leipheimer was fourth in the General Classification after Stage 12 but was forced to withdraw with a broken wrist.

However, a likely big money move to Team RadioShack could help to soften his disappointment.

WINNER: Cycling

Finally, a Tour with no positive doping tests suggests that the war on drug cheating may be bearing some fruit.

Of course, it may simply be that the cheats are a step ahead of the testers, but it appears more likely that the doping culture has at least subsided, even if it has not disappeared altogether.

LOSER: Ben Stiller

Hollywood actor Stiller turned up in Montpellier, hoping to present his close friend Armstrong with the yellow jersey after the team time trial.

But despite the huge effort of the Astana squad, Fabian Cancellara held on to yellow by a fraction of a second, much to Stiller's disappointment.