As he rolled onto the Champs-Élysées on Sunday, Cadel Evans (BMC) could have been forgiven for feeling as though he were yesterday's man. Where 12 months ago all eyes were drawn to his yellow jersey, he now brought the curtain down on his Tour de France in the anonymity of the main peloton.
Such thoughts might only have been exacerbated by Saturday's time trial to Chartres, when Evans suffered the indignation of being caught for three minutes by his young teammate Tejay van Garderen. The American finished the Tour in 5th overall, two places ahead of his leader Evans, and it seemed as though the succession plans had been brought forward.
On wheeling to a halt in the shadow of the Arc de Triomphe, however, Evans said that he would return to the Tour as BMC leader once again in 2013 before handing over the reins to Van Garderen.
"He's showed his potential and we knew what potential he had," Evans said of Van Garderen's performance, which also saw him land the white jersey of best young rider. "I hope that I could offer him some invaluable experience that's going to help him in years to come. I think next year, we'll go one more time for me and then we'll pass over the baton to Tejay."
Evans will be 36 years old when next year's Tour gets underway in Corsica, but he was resolute in his belief that he can still win the race again. After already losing ground in the first time trial and the Alps, Evans' 2012 Tour challenge formally ended when he cracked on the set-piece Pyrenean stage to Bagnéres-de-Luchon, citing illness.
"I'll come back again 100 percent and better than this year, that's for sure," he said. "We'll come back hoping for a bigger and better Tour. I still think I have the capability to win and in the end, it's always up to me and that's what matters most."
While Evans made his way quietly back towards the BMC team bus, the winner's podium was being carefully constructed on the cobbles of the Champs-Élyées, with Sky personnel clamouring excitedly towards the front.
"Let's say that winning is a lot more fun," Evans smiled. "The sport's a lot easier when you're winning. When you're having a bad time in this sport, when you're sick on the hard day in the mountains, you wonder if this isn't the hardest sport on earth."
To his credit, Evans had been brave enough to try and attack the yellow jersey of Wiggins in both the Alps and the Pyrenees, but his best intentions were betrayed by perhaps his worst legs since the 2009 Tour. In spite of his disappointment, however, Evans was keen to put a brave face on his Tour.
"To finish another Tour in itself is a satisfaction," he said. "I enjoyed being with this great group of guys and working with them. Of course after the success of last year, it wasn't what we hoped for and not up to the level of last year."