By John Trevorrow in Paris
Cadel Evans may have just missed snatching a historic win in the Tour de France, but he was magnificent in defeat. Although this is the greatest achievement by an Australian in cycling, there will definitely be a sense of mixed feelings amongst the Australian camp. To step onto to the podium in Paris is a life's dream for any cyclist, but to miss the top step by less than two dozen seconds can add a certain angst to the equation. "I can't quite believe it to be honest," Evans told Cyclingnews after the finish. "For the amount of work I've put in - well, it's going to take a while for it all to sink in."
One could say that Evans really only lost by three seconds without time bonuses (Contador took 20" with the win on stage 14 and 8" for the third place on stage 16, while Evans took eight seconds bonus on stage nine), making the close call all the more heart-wrenching. Following the time trial, Evans hugged his wife Chiara in a tearful embrace soon after the finish, and it was evident that the three weeks of intense pressure that built to a thrilling climax in the final five kilometres of the time trial bought about a release of raw emotion between the obviously close couple. "I am so happy for him," Chiara said moments before she was wrapped in Cadel's arms. "He rode so great and I am very proud of him. The many messages from Geelong and Barwon Heads have been just fantastic," a beaming Chiara said. "He is going to win it next year."
Evans was kicking himself over the stage 16 finish, where he relied on the other teams to chase Contador and Rasmussen, but hadn't truly come to terms with his achievement. "I think you may have to talk to me in a week when it really sinks in," he said after the finish in Paris. "My only regret is that I relied on other teams into Loudenvielle and lost 55 seconds to Contador. Now I think everyone understands why I was so frustrated."
Those 55 seconds could have easily brought him the overall win in Paris, but the 1'52 he lost to Contador on stage 14 was the one physical breakdown that leaves room for improvement in the future. Predictor-Lotto team manager Marc Sergeant was proud of Evans, and is aiming for bigger things in the future. "It has been a wonderful journey we have done together," Sergeant said in Paris. "Cadel has improved each year. He was 8th in 2005, the 5th last year, now second. We have to work now on the win for next year."
The biggest scare of the Tour for Evans came on stage 18, where Evans clashed with a spectator during the run-in to the finish, resulting in a sore, swollen shoulder. "It was pretty sore actually and it was a worry during the night when it got quite swollen," Evans said. "Luckily it was OK the next morning."
Alberto Contador may have conquered the 94th Tour de France, but there are many who feel that Evans was the real star of the race. The 24 year-old Spaniard put in a tour saving time trial behind stage winner and team-mate Leipheimer, and had to dig deeply in to all reserves to hold off a superb effort by Cadel.
This Tour will be remembered for many reasons. Of course, it will take a concerted effort from all the powers in cycling to recover from the disqualification of Rasmussen, Vinokourov and the entire Cofidis team, but for his countrymen and fans, the feat of Evans will remain indelibly impregnated into memory as one of the greatest contests ever witnessed and one of the most dogged performances by an Australian athlete. Magnifique Cadel!