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Tour de Teamwork

Don't forget the supporting riders who made victory possible.

Astana rider and leader's yellow jersey Alberto Contador of Spain (r.) celebrates his overall victory on the podium with teammates after the final 21st stage of the 96th Tour de France cycling race between Montereau-Fault-Yonne and Paris on Sunday.

Bogdan Cristel/Reuters

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Alberto Contador proved he was the most talented rider in this year's Tour de France. And Lance Armstrong proved he still has the heart – and (almost) the legs – of a champion, finishing third in his comeback bid. But the real winner may be teamwork itself.

That's welcome news for a race that's fallen on hard times. The widespread use of illicit performance-enhancing drugs in recent years had turned the three-week endurance contest into a pharmaceutical competition. Critics started calling it the Tour de Farce. But the sport has cracked down and this year's Tour had not a single doping incident.

With chemicals no longer the deciding factor, team strategy and tactics took center stage.

It's not often apparent when watching the race on TV, but behind every great Tour cyclist are eight supporting teammates – not to mention mechanics, masseurs, chefs, and a director. Their job is to do whatever it takes to help the team leader excel.

That means riding in front, shielding the lead cyclist from the wind, and defending him from other teams' attacks.

Take British sprint specialist Mark Cavendish. If you watched only highlights on this year's Tour, you saw the man, nicknamed "the missile," outpedal his rivals in the final 200 meters of several stages. What you didn't see was a succession of his Columbia-HTC teammates pulling him toward the front of the , or main pack, allowing Cavendish to conserve energy in their slipstream before rocketing to the finish line. "I always say that I'm put in the best position by the guys," he said.

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