Cadel Evans became the Tour de France’s oldest winner in 88 years after taking the yellow jersey on the next-to-last day in a time trial.
The Australian is also the first rider from the southern hemisphere to win cycling’s biggest event. Runner-up in 2007 and 2008, Evans at age 34 is the oldest winner since Henri Pelissier, who was a month older when he finished first in 1923.
“It’s the accumulation of 20 years of work on my part,” Evans told Fox Sports. “Finally everything went right.”
Evans won the 21-stage race by 1 minute, 34 seconds after crossing the finish line in Paris following a 59-mile ride from Creteil in which the leading cyclists, abiding by tradition, didn’t compete for places in the overall standings.
Andy and Frank Schleck, brothers from Luxembourg, finished second and third of the 198 riders who began the 2,132-mile race on July 2. Evans overtook them in the standings two days ago in a time trial in Grenoble to become the third holder of the yellow jersey in as many days.
Andy Schleck, 26, is runner-up for a third straight year, while Frank Schleck, 31, finished third, 2 minutes, 30 seconds behind Evans. It’s the first time brothers have made the same podium of the race. France’s Thomas Voeckler, leader until three days ago, was fourth and defending champion Alberto Contador fifth.
Mark Cavendish of the U.K. won the sprint finish yesterday, his fifth stage win this year to secure the green jersey for the points winner for the first time. Spain’s Samuel Sanchez won the King of the Mountains polka dot jersey.
Evans, who wrapped himself in an Australian flag on the podium, says his 5-foot-8 frame makes him “completely unsuitable” for most of that country’s sports that require speed or size. He became a professional road-bike cyclist at age 24 with Italy’s Saeco team after winning the mountain bike World Cup series in 1998 and 1999. He divides his time between homes in Switzerland and Barwon Heads, Australia.
His career has been interrupted by accidents and he occasionally has lost his cool, head-butting a television camera with the top of his helmet in 2008. He broke his collarbone three times in 2003 and last year rode the last 12 stages of the Tour de France with a broken elbow.
“He’s a born fighter, who knows how to suffer on his bike,” Carlos Sastre, who beat Evans to the 2008 title, said in an interview. “He knew he had a chance of winning this year and he raced very intelligently.”
Andy Schleck, a more talented climber, made “a lot of errors” and his Leopard-Trek team was too concerned about him and his brother Frank instead of putting its full backing behind one of them, according to Sastre, whose Geox team wasn’t invited. Contador’s preparation may have been disturbed after he failed a drug test last year, Sastre added.
Contador blamed the finding on contaminated beef and was acquitted by the Spanish cycling federation in February. The World Anti-Doping Agency and cycling’s ruling body is appealing the decision, with a hearing scheduled to start Aug. 1. Russia’s Alexandr Kolobnev is the only rider so far known to have failed a drug test at this year's Tour.
Brian Cookson, a British member of the management committee of cycling’s governing body, said the race had been one of the cleanest in years.
“We’ve been seeing the riders exhausted when they should be exhausted,” Cookson said in an interview. “We’ve seen human frailty and grand deeds. It’s been one of the best Tours in many years.”
Slowed by Crashes
As Contador was slowed down by crashes, Evans began his seventh Tour de France with second place in the opening two stages -- the second a team time trial for BMC Racing -- and won stage four to the Mur-de-Bretagne. He defended his position in the standings in the Pyrenees and Alps, counterattacking into the wind on stage 18 to the Col du Galibier to limit Andy Schleck’s advantage.
A time-trial specialist, Evans started the stage two days ago 57 seconds behind Andy Schleck and four seconds behind Frank Schleck. The Australian propped himself on the handlebars and churned the pedals over the rolling 26-mile course, sweat pouring from his face, to finish second in the trial and take the yellow jersey.
“The real highlight of it all was the last three to four kilometers of the time trial,” Evans said of the three-week Tour. “I knew we were on the right track.”