It was a Tour de France that many are hailing as a classic. There were crashes,dropouts,surprises and,above all,a new champion wearing the yellow jersey on the podium in Paris. With Cadel Evans becoming the first Australian to win cycling’s most prestigious race,the Tour de France had a new look this year.
Lance Armstrong’s seven-year stranglehold over the Tour was a remarkable demonstration of strength and focus but not that engrossing in terms of the competition. After the American’s departure,Alberto Contador stepped up and won three titles in four years.
This year,though,with defending champion Contador far from his best,the race was wide open. Despite the early departure of some pre-race favorites,halfway through the final week there were still seven serious contenders for the title. And that’s not even to mention upstart Frenchman Thomas Voeckler,who led through the Pyrenees and much of the alps,fighting off every attempt to relieve him of the precious yellow jersey.
The rivalry between Luxembourg brothers Frank and Andy Schleck was finally played out,after it was cut short last year by a crash that forced Frank to drop out. The brothers revealed nothing but devotion to each other. Frank seemed genuinely delighted at his younger sibling’s success,and they embraced at the finish line seconds after Andy finished his time-trial on Saturday. Their second and third-place finishes for Leopard-Trek are proof that a team doesn’t have to tear itself apart if it has more than one contender,though maybe it takes the strength of family ties to make it work.
Two Italians,Ivan Basso and Damiano Cunego,were in the hunt,though in the end their climbing skills weren’t enough to counter their poor time-trial performances; Contador was still dangerous,but he couldn’t make up the time he’d lost at the beginning of the race; his compatriot,Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez,walked off with the polka-dot jersey for the best climber and a sixth-place finish.
Amid it all,seemingly untouched by the chaos,was Evans. A few people always believed in me. I always believed in me. And we did it!” the 34-year-old said after his triumphant entry into Paris.
Up every mountain,Evans was never more than one bicycle length behind his rivals. With a small lead that he’d picked up in the early stages of the race and a lot of strength in time-trialing,he knew that he didn’t need to attack in order to win.
He went into the time-trial needing to make up almost a minute on Andy Schleck; he made up almost two-and-a-half. The real highlight of it all was the last three or four kilometers of the time trial, Evans said. The hardest part had been done until that point and coming into that finish I knew we were on the right track so that was just incredible.