PARIS, July 26- Spain's Alberto Contador secured a third Tour de France yellow jersey Sunday after the 20th and final stage to the Champs Elysees won by Briton Mark Cavendish.Cavendish powered to the finish line alone for the second consecutive year to claim his fifth stage success of this year’s race and 15th of his career.
Italian Alessandro Petacchi, the winner of two stages, finished second on the stage to secure the green jersey for the race’s points competition while France’s Anthony Charteau won the best climber’s polka dot jersey.
Seven-time champion Lance Armstrong, who finished almost 40minutes adrift, managed to step up to the podium on what was his final appearance after his RadioShack team won the teams’ classification.
Contador, the winner in 2007 and 2009, pulled on his third yellow jersey after leaving Luxemburger Andy Schleck in second at 39sec and as runner-up for the second year in a row.
"I had some tough moments on this year’s race, as much from a mental as physical point of view," said Contador, who has now won five Grand Tours after his Tour of Spain and Tour of Italy wins in 2008.
"I think that managing to cope during those days was the reason I won the Tour. I suffered a lot to get this result. Words don’t explain what it means to me."
Saxo Bank climbing specialist Schleck also won the race’s white jersey for the best placed rider aged 25 or under for the third successive year, although he has promised to come back to win in 2011.
"I wanted to win it this year, but I’m making a rendez-vous for next year to win a jersey of that colour," said Schleck as he stood and pointed at Contador.
Russian Denis Menchov, of Rabobank, filled the third podium place having pushed Spaniard Samuel Sanchez of Euskaltel into fourth after the penultimate stage time trial on Saturday.
Menchov, who won the 2009 Giro d’Italia, also finished third in 2008 but only after Austrian Bernhard Kohl was disqualified for doping.
Schleck ultimately failed to overcome losing the lead to Contador on stage 15 when the Spaniard counter-attacked the Saxo Bank rider moments before he suffered a mechanical problem with his gears on the stage’s final climb.
Contador finished in Bagneres-de-Luchon with an eight-second lead on Schleck, and after defending the yellow jersey in a dramatic final stage of climbing to the foggy summit of the Col du Tourmalet the Spaniard’s win was decided by the final time trial.
Schleck briefly took the virtual lead early in the 52km race against the clock from Bordeaux to Pauillac on Saturday, only for Contador to finish 31secs faster.
It left the 27-year-old Contador with a 39sec winning margin, exactly what Schleck had lost on stage 15, going into Sunday’s final stage where the yellow jersey is traditionally not contested.
He now joins Belgian Philippe Thys (1913, 1914, 1920), France’s Louison Bobet (1953 to 1955) and American Greg LeMond (1986, 1989, 1990) as a three-time winner of the epic race.
HTC-Columbia sprinter Cavendish, 25, has now claimed five stage wins from this year’s 97th edition, adding to the six he won in 2009 and four in 2008 for a remarkable tally of 15.
"It’s one of the most beautiful feelings in the world, winning on the Champs Elysees," said Cavendish, who comes from the Isle of Man.
"I didn’t have the best start to the race but once we got that first stage win we went on a roll.
"It’s a roller coaster of emotions racing the Tour de France. For me it’s the most beautiful event in the world."