Paris Cadel Evans has been keeping fans back home up all night watching him become the first Australian to win the Tour de France. It’s a victory that’s been a long time coming.
Over the years, Evans has been better known for failing to live up to expectations than for overachieving.
He finished second in the 2007 Tour and was expected to win the next year, but was runner-up again. Last year, he was leading the race but crashed and fractured his left elbow. The pain was too much, and he dropped out of contention in tears, ultimately finishing 50 minutes behind winner Alberto Contador.
This time, persistence, planning — and a little good luck — paid off.
“I hope I brought a great deal of joy to my countrymen, my country,” Evans said Sunday after climbing onto the winner’s podium on the Champs-Elysees. “It’s been a pleasure and an honor to fly the flag over here.”
The 34-year-old Evans, the oldest champion since before World War II, stood on the podium wrapped in his national flag, his eyes tearing up as he listened to the Australian national anthem. He then embraced Andy and Frank Schleck.
The brothers from Luxembourg had pushed him all the way to the end, but were finally defeated by his solo strength in Saturday’s race against the clock.
On the traditional Tour victory lap on Paris’ Champs-Elysees, champagne in hand, Evans seemed to stop to celebrate with just about every fan bearing an Australian flag.
As he clambered into his BMC team bus, hundreds of people shouted praise, one yelling, “Cadel, we love you!” and others chanting “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie — Oy, Oy, Oy!”
This was a very different Tour from the ones of the recent past that have been dominated by a single rider — Lance Armstrong or Contador. At least seven riders could have won it with only a few days remaining.
Contador, who is fighting a legal battle to hold on to last year’s victory after a positive drug test, faded away in the final stages and finished fifth.
On Sunday’s largely ceremonial ride to Paris, Contador smiled and chatted with Evans, even patting the Australian on the back. Afterward, the three-time Tour champion said he told Evans “he was the strongest rider, and it’s normal that he won.”