Cadel Evans wins 2011 Tour de France

Cadel Evans (BMC) sealed Tour de France victory on Sunday after enjoying an untroubled final day on the road to Paris, while Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) dominated proceedings in the finishing sprint on the Champs-Élysées to secure the green jersey.

For the third time in as many attempts, Cavendish took a comfortable win on the famous boulevard, and for the third consecutive year, Andy Schleck (Leopard Trek) stood on the second step of the podium in the shadow of the Arc de Triomphe. Familiar as those scenes were, however, the real story of the day was a rather more novel one, as Evans became the first rider from the Southern Hemisphere to win the Tour de France.

On crossing the finish line, Evans was struggling to come to terms with the magnitude of his achievement and admitted that it was difficult to estimate the impact his win would have in Australia.

“I haven’t had time to consider that aspect, to be honest,” Evans said. “It’s been a long, long process and it will take a long time to realise what it means.”

Evans finished 1:34 clear of Andy Schleck and 2:30 ahead of his older brother Fränk to finally win the Tour after years of heartache, and he was keen to pay tribute to the support of his family and his BMC squad.

“A few people always believed in me and they’re the people that matter the most. We did it,” Evans smiled. “It’s been a real pleasure these past three weeks.”

In spite of becoming the first siblings to finish on the Tour podium, there was palpable disappointment for the Schleck brothers at falling short of bringing the yellow jersey back to Luxembourg for the first time since Charly Gaul’s triumph in 1958.

The stage winner Mark Cavendish was understandably in rather more ebullient mood after his fifth stage win of this Tour, and his twentieth in total, a remarkable figure for a rider who only turned 26 in May. In seeing off the challenge of Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) and André Greipel (Omega Pharma-Lotto), not only did the Manxman underline his status as the pre-eminent sprinter of his generation, he also secured the first green jersey of his career.

Cavendish explained that the headwind that greeted the riders coming off the Place de la Concorde meant that he started his sprint later than in previous years.

“I left it until 170 metres to go today, I knew it was going to be tough,” Cavendish said. “I’m so, so happy and so proud of the guys. It’s a great way to finish the Tour.

“I’ve been trying to get this [the green jersey] for the past few years and finally I’ve done it.”

Cadel Evans knows how he feels.

Familiar feel to final stage

At the end of a Tour de France that has deviated dramatically from the script anticipated before the start, there was a distinct lack of ad-libbing on the final 95km leg to Paris.

There was a sombre start to proceedings in the south Parisian suburb of Créteil on Sunday, as the peloton paused for a minute’s silence in memory of the victims of the tragic events in Norway on Friday, while a heartfelt tribute was also paid to one of the Tour’s favourite sons. The late Laurent Fignon, who died of cancer in August last year, first rose to prominence as an amateur with the famous US Créteil club, and a plaque in his honour was unveiled in the presence of family and former teammates prior to Sunday’s stage

As per tradition, the pace was relaxed as the bunch ambled out of Créteil towards Paris. The first half of the stage was a promenade towards the city centre, with Cadel Evans and his BMC squad obliging the photographers by riding at the head of the bunch, while the Australian also had time to accept the congratulations of many of his peers.

Once the Eifel Tower reared into view on the horizon, however, there was a slight but perceptible shift in attitude and focus, and the détente ended formally once the peloton hit the iconic Champs-Élysées circuit with a little under 50km to race.

After BMC had yielded their position on the front of the bunch, the attacking could begin in earnest, but on the first lap, nobody succeeded in breaking the deadlock. It took a determined sortie from Ben Swift (Sky) with 40km to go to spark the main break of the afternoon.

The Englishman was joined in his attempt by Kristjan Koren (Liquigas-Cannondale), Sergio Paulinho (RadioShack), Christophe Riblon (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and Lars Bak (HTC-Highroad), and the sextet took advantage of a lull in the peloton’s pace after the intermediate sprint with 35km to race to stretch their lead out to beyond 45 seconds.

At that sprint, Cavendish delivered an ominous warning to the peloton by careering clear to take the points on offer for 7th place, while his lead-out man Mark Renshaw squeezed out José Joaquin Rojas for 8th and furthered strengthened Cavendish’s grip on the green jersey.

With Bak sitting comfortably in the leading group, HTC-Highroad were under no obligation to lead the pursuit behind, and the break still held a 20-second lead as they reached the bell with 6km to race. In the finale, however, both Lampre-ISD and Quick Step contributed to the chase, while HTC’s train cranked into action on behalf of Cavendish.

The last survivors up front were Bak and Swift, but when they too were reeled in with a little over three kilometres to race, HTC stepped up their efforts in earnest, and a number of speculative attempts, including one from Carlos Barredo (Rabobank) were promptly snuffed out by Cavendish’s watchmen.

With Bernhard Eisel and Tony Martin setting a scorching pace along the Rue de Rivoli, there was a grim air of inevitability about the finishing sprint, and when Renshaw swung off after guiding his leader through the final sweep from the Place de la Concorde, Cavendish unsheathed a razor sharp sprint to put his rivals to the sword for the twentieth time in four years. Boasson Hagen and Greipel came closest, but they had no answer to Cavendish’s burst in the final 200 metres, while Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Cervélo) had to settle for fourth, ahead of a surprising Fabian Cancellara (Leopard Trek).

Not content with another victory on sprinting’s most evocative stage, however, Cavendish already had another major rendezvous in mind seconds after crossing the line. “I’ve got a world championships to think about in a few months,” he warned.

The head and the legs

While Cavendish sealed the green jersey, Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) was crowned king of the mountains, French revelation Pierre Rolland (Europcar) carried off the white jersey and Garmin-Cervélo secured the teams classification.

Full Results

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#Rider Name (Country) TeamResult
1Mark Cavendish (GBr) HTC-Highroad2:27:02
2Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky ProcyclingRow 1 - Cell 2
3André Greipel (Ger) Omega Pharma-LottoRow 2 - Cell 2
4Tyler Farrar (USA) Team Garmin-CerveloRow 3 - Cell 2
5Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Leopard TrekRow 4 - Cell 2
6Daniel Oss (Ita) Liquigas-CannondaleRow 5 - Cell 2
7Borut Bozic (Slo) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling TeamRow 6 - Cell 2
8Tomas Vaitkus (Ltu) Pro Team AstanaRow 7 - Cell 2
9Gerald Ciolek (Ger) Quickstep Cycling TeamRow 8 - Cell 2
10Jimmy Engoulvent (Fra) Saur - SojasunRow 9 - Cell 2
11Sébastien Hinault (Fra) AG2R La MondialeRow 10 - Cell 2
12Grega Bole (Slo) Lampre - ISDRow 11 - Cell 2
13Mark Renshaw (Aus) HTC-HighroadRow 12 - Cell 2
14Juan Antonio Flecha Giannoni (Spa) Sky ProcyclingRow 13 - Cell 2
15Francisco José Ventoso Alberdi (Spa) Movistar TeamRow 14 - Cell 2
16Samuel Dumoulin (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit En LigneRow 15 - Cell 2
17Mikhail Ignatyev (Rus) Katusha TeamRow 16 - Cell 2
18Maxim Iglinskiy (Kaz) Pro Team AstanaRow 17 - Cell 2
19Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Lampre - ISDRow 18 - Cell 2
20Sébastien Turgot (Fra) Team EuropcarRow 19 - Cell 2
21Jose Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Movistar TeamRow 20 - Cell 2
22Arnaud Coyot (Fra) Saur - SojasunRow 21 - Cell 2
23Alan Perez Lezaun (Spa) Euskaltel-EuskadiRow 22 - Cell 2
24Fabio Sabatini (Ita) Liquigas-CannondaleRow 23 - Cell 2
25Sébastien Minard (Fra) AG2R La MondialeRow 24 - Cell 2
26Tony Gallopin (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit En LigneRow 25 - Cell 2
27Rein Taaramae (Est) Cofidis, Le Credit En LigneRow 26 - Cell 2
28Rob Ruijgh (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling TeamRow 27 - Cell 2
29Arnold Jeannesson (Fra) FDJRow 28 - Cell 2
30Christian Knees (Ger) Sky ProcyclingRow 29 - Cell 2
31Danilo Hondo (Ger) Lampre - ISDRow 30 - Cell 2
32Maciej Paterski (Pol) Liquigas-CannondaleRow 31 - Cell 2
33Leonardo Fabi