Spain's golden year continues with Sastre's Tour triumph

MADRID Mon Jul 28, 2008 1:00pm BST

1 of 7. Team CSC Saxo Bank rider Carlos Sastre of Spain, overall winner, cycles up the Champs Elysees to celebrate his victory after the final 21st stage of the 95th Tour de France cycling race between Etampes and Paris, July 27, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Bogdan Cristel

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MADRID (Reuters) - Carlos Sastre's Tour de France triumph has provided yet more evidence that Spain is enjoying a golden era in international sport.

The 33-year-old's victory on Sunday followed a string of other high profile successes and with the Beijing Olympics just around the corner, hopes are high that the achievements will inspire the country's athletes to bring home a host of medals.

"Sastre conquers Paris in a magical year for Spanish sport," was the front page headline on Monday's El Pais, featuring a photograph of the cyclist accompanied by his two young children on the Tour podium.

"Sastre has put the icing on the cake of a historic period in Spanish sport just ahead of the Olympics," according to rival daily El Mundo.

Last month, the country's soccer team finally laid to rest their reputation as perennial underachievers by winning their first major trophy in 44 years with a scintillating victory at Euro 2008.

Rafael Nadal is close to deposing Roger Federer as the world's number one tennis player after following up his fourth successive French Open title by becoming the first Spaniard to win Wimbledon in over 40 years earlier this month.

At the start of June, Alberto Contador, unable to defend his Tour title after his Astana team were barred from the race, went some way to making up for the disappointment by winning the Giro d'Italia.

If a Spaniard wins the Vuelta a Espana, they will have made a clean sweep of all three big tours on the cycling calendar.

GREEN JERSEY

Sastre's triumph was Spain's third successive victory in the Tour and Oscar Freire joined in on the celebrations by becoming the first Spaniard to win the green sprint jersey.

In recent years, Spain has also won the basketball world championship, two Formula One championships, five motorcycling world titles and a handball world crown as well as a host of medals in lower profile sports.

"What we have achieved in June and July has no comparison in history," sports minister Jaime Lissavetzky said.

"This is proof that there are a lot of elite sportsmen in this country and augurs very well for the Olympics."

At Beijing, Spain are hoping to get close to the record 22 medals they won when Barcelona hosted the Games in 1992.

They have real hopes of winning gold in events as diverse as basketball, hockey, triathlon, canoeing, cycling, synchronised swimming and race walking.

"It has cost us a lot to get to the summit but now we are there," Sastre said after his victory in Paris.

The Beijing Games open on August 8.

(Reporting by Simon Baskett; Editing by John O'Brien)

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