Great grandson of a Welsh immigranta worthy, popular champion
Published 25/07/2011 | 05:00
In a 'two-horse race' it often pays to cover your bet with a modest wager on the third favourite and that, in a nutshell, was the story of the 2011 Tour de France, a race that saw Australia's Cadel Evans win at a canter down the Champs Elysees in Paris yesterday.
After much debate, the killjoys in the Australian government decided against calling a national holiday, but everybody Down Under has been urged to wear yellow to work today
With all the attention focused on Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck, Evans has flown under the radar during the last three weeks, going about his business, until the realisation on Friday, with the last mountain stage finished, that nothing or nobody was going to stop him.
The great grandson of a Welsh immigrant to the Northern Territories, Evans roared around the 42.5k time trial course on Saturday to complete the job in a ride that rapidly morphed into a lap of honour. Victory was his.
Yesterday may have been the first occasion Evans had donned the yellow jersey this year, but, frankly, what better time than the fourth Sunday of the Tour?
Evans is only the third non-European to win the Tour -- Greg Lemond and Lance Armstrong are the others -- and the significance of that was not lost on race Director Christian Prudhomme yesterday: "Cadel's victory symbolises the globalisation of cycling. He's the first Australian winner, he's the first winner from the southern hemisphere and he's someone who originally started off as a mountain biker. It shows the diversity of our sport."
Evans is a worthy and popular champion who, at the age of 34, is the oldest winner of the Tour since before World War Two and the third oldest in history. Looking at the runners and riders before the race started at Passage du Gois on July 2, he recognised that only a fully fit and motivated Contador and an Andy Schleck firing on all cylinders stood between him and perhaps a last realistic shot at the sport's ultimate prize.
Not the most naturally gifted rider in the peloton, Evans is nonetheless exceptional in his racing scope being a superb time-triallist, a very strong climber and perfectly at home on Classics type stages. He can even contest a full-on sprint if the finish is uphill and hard enough as he showed when winning the tough Mur de Bretagne stage this year.
His real genius, though, is a street fighter's instinct for survival and a bloody-minded determination to get the job done. His intensity levels have been sky high this year, while other GC contenders occasionally went Awol.
Contador arrived more fatigued from the Giro d'Italia than anybody, including himself, had reckoned on and promptly crashed on the first day and lost over a minute to his leading rivals.
Another crash on stage five resulted in a damaged knee and Contador was never quite right after that, although he tried to fire a few shots on the final mountain stage to Alpe D'Huez.
Schleck produced the ride of the Tour, his marvellous attack on stage 18, the Queen stage to the summit of the Galivbier which included three HC climbs, but Evans chased him for the best part of 60km to minimise his losses and ensure that ultimately the yellow jersey would be decided in Grenoble, where he had ridden the time-trial course last month in the Dauphine and Schleck had not.
A big oversight that from Schleck, who had not even trained on the course.
Elsewhere, Thomas Voeckler's brave attempt to end France's 26-year wait for a Tour de France winner provided the romance, although it was always going to end in tears at the time-trial.
Norway prospered on and off the road with their fans in good voice everywhere and Thor Hushovd and Edvald Boasson Hagen sharing four stage wins.
Team Sky were much more active and aggressive than last year with Geraint Thomas one of the riders of the Tour and Boasson Hagen good value for his two stage wins. Inevitably, though, their Tour was clouded by the loss on Stage Seven of Bradley Wiggins, who crashed out.
This Tour, with its tactical cancelling out in the Pyrenees, and fierce TT finish would have suited him very nicely.
Just how well we will never know, but he is three years younger than Evans, so all is not lost. (© Daily Telegraph, London)