The 2011 edition of the Tour de France was a race for the ages, with Cadel Evans (BMC) ultimately prevailing as the Grand Tour's first Australian winner, and Cyclingnews readers duly took notice and voted the French Grand Tour the year's best stage race for the ninth time in 10 years, capturing a resounding 64.9% of the tallies.
And while Evans' triumph was a fitting capstone to the 2011 Tour, La Grand Boucle was replete with excitement, drama and intrigue from start to finish.
Philippe Gilbert, the most dominant cyclist of the season, kicked off affairs in stage one with a stage win atop Mont des Alouettes and his first career yellow jersey.
The following day's stage, a 23km team time trial, was a day Garmin-Cervélo had been eagerly awaiting as the US-based ProTeam notched its first Tour de France stage win and put team member Thor Hushovd into the maillot jaune. And when it rains, it pours, as Garmin-Cervélo's Tyler Farrar won his first Tour de France stage the next day in the field sprint finale to stage 3 in Redon, joining teammate David Zabriskie as the only Americans to win stages in all three Grand Tours.
Hushovd would remain resplendent in yellow through stage 9, but his run of incredible form would continue as the reigning world champion went on the attack to claim victories in stages 13 and 16 in Garmin-Cervélo's dream Tour.
Stage 9 will likely go down in history as one of the most dramatic days in recent memory as Dutchman Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil-DCM) was launched onto a barbed-wire fence after being hit by a French television car trying to pass the leading breakaway on a narrow section of road. Hoogerland's bloodied body would be headline news throughout the world, and in a remarkable display of grit and resolve Hoogerland would manage to not only finish the stage (and don the polka dot climber's jersey), but he would persevere through to Paris with legs and torso dotted with scars.
The ninth stage would also be the day that French star Thomas Voeckler began his unlikely campaign in the leader's maillot jaune. A member of the winning break, along with Luis Leon Sanchez and Sandy Casar, Voeckler would head into the Tour's latter half with a two and a half minute advantage over favourites such as Evans, and the Schleck brothers. Amazingly, Voeckler, with the super-human assistance of teammate Pierre Rolland, would only surrender the yellow jersey on the summit of Alpe d'Huez, the final mountain stage just two days before the Tour's finish in Paris.
Rolland, however, would continue Europcar's success by triumphing atop Alpe d'Huez and would finish in Paris as the winner of the best young rider's white jersey.
The Tour's endgame would be historic, as for the first time in history a different rider started each of the final three days in yellow: Thomas Voeckler on stage 19, Andy Schleck on stage 20, and Cadel Evans for his triumphant ride into Paris on stage 21. Schleck took over yellow from Voeckler on Alpe d'Huez, only to have Evans dominate his GC rivals on the penultimate stage time trial and claim the Tour's final maillot jaune.
The Schleck brothers, Andy and Frank, would both finish on the final podium in Paris, with Andy in the runner-up position for the third straight year.
It wouldn't be a recent Tour de France without multiple Mark Cavendish stage wins, and the Manx Missile claimed five in the 2011 edition. Additionally, Cavendish earned his first career green jersey, with many more likely on the horizon for the young Briton.
Sprint rival Andre Greipel would have a break through Tour de France performance, taking his first stage win on stage 10, putting the German in the elite club of pros who've won stages in all three Grand Tours.
The Giro d'Italia, voted best stage race in 2010, finished a distant second place this year with 3,373 votes. The incredibly grueling Italian Grand Tour was won by Alberto Contador for the second time in his career with a more than six-minute margin of victory over Italy's Michele Scarponi.
Rounding out the top three for best stage race was the calendar's third Grand Tour, the Vuelta a España, which was won by Juan Jose Cobo by only 13 seconds in a thrilling duel with Chris Froome.
2011 Best Stage Race:
1 Tour de France 14,042 (64.9%)
2 Giro d'Italia 3,373 (15.6%)
3 Vuelta a España 1,182 (5.5%)
4 Amgen Tour of California 1,155 (5.3%)
5 USA Pro Cycling Challenge 1,009 (4.7%)
6 Tour de Suisse 297 (1.4%)
7 Cape Epic mountain bike stage race 186 (0.9%)
8 Critérium du Dauphiné 180 (0.8%)
9 Tirenno-Adriatico 139 (0.6%)
10 Giro Donne 71 (0.3%)
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