GRENOBLE, France – Silencing his doubters once and for all, Cadel Evans will now be wearing the prized Tour de France leader’s yellow jersey on the Champs-Elysees.
The two-time runner-up locked up Australia’s first victory in cycling’s greatest race on Saturday by overcoming Luxembourg’s Andy Schleck in the final time trial.
The suspense-filled race against the clock, with just seconds separating the two racers, culminated one of the most exciting Tours in recent memory after three weeks marked by crashes, climbing agony and bone-chilling rains.
This year’s edition of the 108-year-old race, with nail-biting tension through to the end, offered one of the most exciting finishes in years – and without a serious doping blight that marred past Tours.
Although there is one more stage, Evans has victory sealed: Today’s finale on the Champs-Elysees in Paris tends to be a ceremonial ride because launching a successful attack on that flat last stage is nearly impossible.
After using racing savvy to keep close in the last Tour days, Evans on Saturday turned on the juice with his skill as a time trial rider to erase his 57-second gap to Schleck – and reverse it, into a lead of 1:34. The Luxembourg rider is poised for his third second-place finish in a row.
To win, Evans needed to vault over not one but two Schlecks: Andy’s older brother Frank also had a 4-second edge on the Australian going into the 26.4-mile time trial in and around Grenoble.
The fraternal duo, who had buried any sibling rivalry, had applied their own strategy to get within a day of victory by delivering a one-two punch of attacks in the mountains that kept their rivals guessing. While it worked in the climbs, the time-trial always loomed as their weakness.
With defending champion Alberto Contador on the back foot after a dismal start because of crashes, Evans knew if he could stay ahead of the Spaniard, the time trial could be his trump card against the Schlecks.
This was the opposite of the Lance Armstrong era, when the Texan seven-time champ often put his mastery of the race from the first mountain stage – and rarely relented. For Evans, victory comes in a more sneaky way.
“The key aspect to our Tour is consistency,” he said.
After two second-place finishes, and at age 34, Evans knew his days of possible victory were running out. He and his BMC team left little to chance, and he rode a lighter pre-Tour season to focus on the sport’s holy grail.
Evans’ caution came a striking contrast to 2008, a year when he was a favorite but his race turned to disappointment – and was infected by some hubris. After gaining the yellow shirt that year, his team introduced him like a rock star at a glitzy rest day event, and he sipped champagne.
Five days later, he lost the jersey in the Alps – to Frank Schleck. By the finish, Evans had lost to Carlos Sastre, failing to overcome the Spaniard in a final time trial. That time, the come-from-behind bid failed.
But the lesson had sunk in, as Evans acknowledged Saturday: “No one wanted to know me back in August 2008.”