Heading into Saturday’s Stage 20 time trial, Cadel Evans faced a 57-second deficit on the leaderboard that provided further drama to one of the most memorable races in recent years.
With confident, dominant performance, he not only made up the gap to catch Andy Schleck, but blew past the overall leader to claim the yellow jersey and ensure a calm, celebratory ride down the Champs Champs- Élysées — glass of champagne in hand.
Evans, a 34-year-old Australian, became the first Aussie to capture the most prestigious title in the sport and the second oldest rider to win the race since World War II.
Evans — who finished second in both 2007 and 2008 and held the lead in 2010 before breaking his elbow in a crash — was part of a tightly-packed group atop the leaderboard for most of the competition, trading spots with Andy and his older brother Frank Schleck and Frenchman Thomas Voeckler among others, but it was Evans’ will and determination to stay with the better climbers during three days in the Alps that set him up for victory on Saturday.
Photo gallery: Tour de France 2011
Andy Schleck of Luxembourg, who lost significant time in Saturday’s time trial despite a solid ride, finished second for the third straight year and was followed by Frank Schleck. Evans’ margin over Andy Schleck was 1 minute, 34 seconds — all from his time trial blitz.
Standing atop the podium, draped in the Australian flag, Evans expressed his gratitude:
“It’s been a beautiful race, and thanks to these two brothers here I think it was a fantastic experience for everyone involved. I couldn’t be happier than to be standing up right here in the middle.”
Two-time defending champion Alberto Contador made a late surge in the Alps and gave a tremendous effort in Saturday’s time trial but couldn’t reach the podium and was never fully fit. He finished in fifth place.
Garmin-Cervelo — a team based in Boulder, Co. — won the team title, and was led by Tom Danielson, who, was the highest-placing American at No. 9 on the leaderboard.
Best climber (polka dot) — Samuel Sanchez, Spain
Best sprinter (green) — Mark Cavendish, Great Britain
Best young rider (white) — Pierre Rolland, France