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July 27, 2008 1:49 PM

March of the Spanish

Carlos Sastre rode up the world's most famous boulevard triumphantly Sunday, the winner of the 2008 Tour de France. As Marcha Real played with l'Arc de Triomphe the backdrop, it marked another Spanish conquest on the world stage.

Yes, it's been quite a sporting year for Spain.

First, the much-maligned Spanish national soccer team breezed through Euro 2008 for its first championship since 1964. Then, wunderkind Rafael Nadal completed the first French-Wimbledon double since 1980 by outlasting Roger Federer in an epic final at the All-England Club. And now Sastre won the Tour -- the second consecutive for Spain.

Throw in Sergio Garcia's victory at the almost-major Players Championship and Alberto Contador's Giro d'Italia win, it's been an unprecedented international success story -- even if us provincial American fans aren't paying attention.

All these victories are bringing the Spanish closer together. After the end of Generalissimo Francisco Franco's iron-fisted reign, Spain has been quite a fractuous nation with the Castillian majority not getting along with the Catalonian and Basque minorities. Separatist aspirations ususally trumped national unity.

But that's changing. La Seleccion was cheered on by more than 70 percent of the Barcelonans, an unheard-of level of support because the Spanish national team typically was viewed as Madrid's team. Nadal, a Majorcan whose native tongue is Catalan, greeted the Spanish royals after his Wimbledon win and draped himself with a Spanish flag.

The famous Marcha Real, perhaps the oldest national anthem in the world, has no words. The joke is that had there been lyrics to the melody, gun fights just might break out depending on the singing individual's preferred regional language. After 2008, maybe the Spanish will work on something they all can sing along with.

There is just one near-miss in this magical year for the Spaniards: Only if Pau Gasol had helped the Lakers win the NBA championship.

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