The 2011 Tour de France came to an end yesterday on the Champs Elyesees in Paris, where Australian Cadel Evans rode to victory in the race’s famed Yellow Jersey. After more than three weeks of racing, Evans emerged from the pack as best rider in this year’s event, and became the first man from Australia to win cycling’s premiere event.
With a course designed to challenge the riders in unique ways on every single day, fans of the Tour expected this year’s race to be an exciting and wide open one. They got everything they wanted and more, as the 2011 Tour de France featured all kinds of dramatics, particularly when the race entered the high mountains of the Pyrenees and the Alps. During the three weeks of racing, there were daring breakaways, brilliant individual performances, and cringe-inducing crashes, including a nasty incident with a media car that sent Dutch rider Johnny Hoogerland flying into a barbed wire fence.
Before the race started back on July 2nd, the pre-race favorites included not only Evans, but also defending champ Alberto Contador of Spain and the brothers from Luxembourg, Frank and Andy Schleck. Contador was bogged down with crashes early in the race, injuring a knee in the process. Those mishaps cost him precious time, and despite a spirited attempt in the final days of the Tour, he never quite got into the rhythm that has won him the Yellow Jerseys on three separate occasions in the past.
Heading into Saturday however, Andy and Frank Schleck sat at first and second in the standings respectively. Working together, the two men had managed to claim a small lead over Evans coming out of the final mountain stages. Saturday’s stage was an individual time trial however, which is not a strong point for those two riders, and is a particular strength of Evans. The Aussie rode one of the best rides of the day, and left the two Schlecks in the dust, claiming the victory. The two brothers slid to second and third in the final standings.
As is traditional in the Tour de France, Sunday is mostly a ceremonial ride into Paris. While the Peloton will joust for the final stage win, and the sprint specialists duel for the last available points of the race, no one attacks the Yellow Jersey. As a result, Evans’ ride to the finish line in Paris was essentially a 60 mile long victory lap, one that he particularly enjoyed after two second place finishes in previous Tours.
Cadel’s big win is expected to open the door for more Australian cyclists to leave their mark on the sport, much the way that Greg LeMond and Lance Armstrong inspired young American cyclists. Australia already has a proud cycling tradition, but this win will give the sport yet another boost in the country.
Congrats to Evans on the amazing win.
[Photo courtesy of AFP]