Yesterday one of the best Tours de France in recent history came to an end when Cadel Evans rode onto the Champs Elysees in Paris wearing the race’s famed Yellow Jersey. In doing so, he became the first man from Australia to win the race and showed that he is without a doubt amongst the elite riders in the world.
The traditional Sunday ride into Paris during the Tour is largely a ceremonial affair. The Peloton calls a truce against the Yellow Jersey, and everyone enjoys a quiet morning before the sprinters move to the front of the pack and charge for the final Green Jersey points that are available on the streets of Paris. This gave Evans an opportunity to savor his victory and enjoy the moment as much as possible – and enjoy it he most certainly did.
The win comes after three very smart weeks of racing. Evans kept himself at the front of the Peloton for most of the stages. With the help of his team and some very savvy riding, he was able to stay out of trouble and avoid some of the mishaps that have plagued him in the past. He also didn’t panic when some of the other pre-race contenders went on daring breakaways that could have cost him major time. Instead, he stuck to his game plan and worked hard to keep everyone within striking distance. No where was this as evident as it was on Stage 18 when Andy Schleck rode away to a four minute lead on the road, but Evans was able to draw him back in, doing the work completely on his own, and shaving two minutes off the lead on the final climb up the Galibier at the end of the day.
As a result of all of this hard work, Evans was sitting in third place coming out of the big mountain stages and heading into Saturday’s individual time trial. He trailed only the Schleck brothers with Andy in first place 57 seconds ahead, and Frank in second just four seconds out of reach. During that time trial, Cadel rode like a man who knew he had the Tour de France in his grasp. Neither of the Schlecks are particularly adept at time trialing, and it showed. By the end of the day, Evans had not only erased their leads, he had taken first place and was ahead of Andy by 1:34. A remarkable time for sure.
Andy and Frank rode good a Tour as well, and their strategy was a sound one. They had built an excellent team around themselves in the newly launched Leopard Trek squad, and that allowed them both to stand on the podium in Paris. That said, their goal was to win the Tour and anything less has to be viewed as a bit of a failure. It is becoming increasingly evident however that neither man will ever win the race if they don’t improve their ability to ride an individual time trial. It is their achilles heal in an otherwise impressive set of cycling skills.
Two of the three other jerseys that were up for grabs in the race were decided before arriving in Paris. Spain’s Samuel Sanchez locked up the Polka Dot Jersey as the King of the Mountains in climbing and France’s Pierre Rolland claimed the White Jersey after an impressive ride up Alpe d’Huez on Friday and a solid time trial on Saturday. That left just the Green Jersey up for grabs on the Champs Elysees, which Mark Cavendish locked up with an impressive ride yesterday and a big stage win.
With the 2011 Tour now officially over, we can look back and reflect somewhat on what transpired. This was definitely one of the best Tours in recent history for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the dramatics provided by the riders out on the rode. There were some daring breakaways and inspiring individual performance, such as Thomas Voeckler’s fantastic efforts to not only grab the Yellow Jersey mid-way through the race, but also hold on to it for ten stages afterwards. He rode like a man on a mission, and while the Alps eventually killed his legs, it was hard to not cheer for the guy.
It was also a relatively scandal free Tour de France as well. The race organizers had instituted even more stringent drug testing and yet they had only one doping violation the entire race. That came about when Russian rider Alexander Kolobnev tested positive for a banned masking agent and retired from the race. This is a far cry from recent Tours when there were violations occurring on a regular basis, some of which had a direct effect on the final podium placement. As a fan of the race, I’m happy to have no black clouds looming over the event, at least for now.
So ends another Tour de France and those of us who love the race will begin to count the days until next year’s iteration arrives. Huge congratulations to Cadel Evans. This is a much deserved win for the Aussie and I was glad to see him stand on top of the podium in Paris yesterday.
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