Cadel Evans claims historic Tour de France title
By NAOMI KOPPEL
PARIS (AP) - Cadel Evans' history-making Tour de France victory is as much a testament to patience as it is to endurance.
At 34, the soft-spoken Australian rider put aside the disappointment of two runner-up finishes to finally stand atop the podium on the Champs Elysees on Sunday as champion of cycling's great race.
In a meticulous race, run with a strategy of almost military precision, Evans won only the fourth of 21 stages on this year's Tour, but always remained within striking distance.
It was only on the last competitive leg - the individual time trial - that Evans claimed his first leader's Yellow Jersey from nearest rival Andy Schleck and the ultimate prize after 20 years of cycling.
Wrapped in the national flag and with tears in his eyes, Evans listened as French-based Australian singer Tina Arena sang their national anthem after he became the first Australian, the oldest rider since World War II, and the first man outside Europe or the United States to win the most prestigious race in cycling.
"I couldn't be any happier. A few people always believed in me. I always believed in me. And we did it," Evans said.
He celebrated after crossing the finish line in the pack on the Champs-Elysee, embracing riders from different teams as the massive crowd on France's most famous thoroughfare cheered wildly.
Evans bounded up the steps onto the podium, taking deep breaths, then appeared at the top looking calm and waved the bouquet he received in the air.
"Thank you to everyone. It's really incredible," he told the crowd.
Evans was joined on the podium by the Schleck brothers of Luxembourg - Andy, who finished second overall for the third straight year, and Frank. Andy finished 1 minute, 34 seconds behind Evans in the final standings.
Evans' Italian wife, Chiara, stood at his side after the presentation ceremony.
"I think he's worked very hard," she said.
Evans is the third non-European to win the Tour since it started in 1903. Greg LeMond broke the European dominance in 1986 with the first of his three wins, and fellow American Lance Armstrong won seven straight starting in 1999.
It's been a long wait for Evans, who first showed himself as a challenger for major races in 2002, and finished second in the Tour in 2007 and 2008.
Evans is the oldest winner of the Tour's postwar period, narrowly eclipsing Gino Bartali of Italy - who was also 34 but slightly younger when he won in 1948. The age record was set by 36-year-old Firmin Lambot of Belgium in 1922.
"Cadel was the best of the Tour and he deserved to win," said 26-year-old Andy Schleck. "Second isn't bad, and my brother was on the podium, too. I'll be back to win this Tour. We have a date for next year."
This year was a far cry from the Tours of many recent years that were dominated almost from the start by Armstrong or, later, Alberto Contador. This was a race that defied predictions and was still hanging in the balance on the final weekend.
Evans rarely made his presence obvious, but he was always there. Up every mountain he was never more than one bicycle length behind his rivals. He knew he didn't need to attack to win.
Still, when Andy Schleck broke away from the field on the climb of the Galibier pass on Thursday, observers thought Evans' BMC team had made a critical mistake. But Evans remained calm.
He went into Saturday's time-trial needing to make up almost a minute on Schleck; he did much better than that, finishing that stage more than 2 1/2 minutes quicker than Schleck.
"The real highlight was the last three to four kilometers of the time trial (Saturday) because I knew we were on the right track," Evans said.
Sunday's 21st and final stage - the most prestigious for the race's sprinters - was won by Britain's Mark Cavendish for the third year in a row, despite being forced to change his bike on the Champs-Elysees. He also took the green jersey for the overall best sprinter.
Cavendish crossed the line holding out the green jersey he was wearing, and then kissed it. Despite his 20 Tour stage victories, the jersey had eluded him until now.
"Finally!" he said.
Second place in the stage went to Edvald Boasson Hagen of Norway. Andre Greipel of Germany was third.
The polka-dot jersey awarded to the best climber went to Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez of Spain, who brought his two children onto the podium with him. The best young rider was Pierre Rolland of France, who won the classic climb up the Alpe d'Huez on Friday.
Before setting off on Sunday, riders removed their helmets and observed a minute of silence in tribute to the victims of the attacks in Norway on Friday.
"When this kind of thing happens, everybody forgets about the sport," Norwegian rider Thor Hushovd said. "It's not even important in comparison.
"It's quite nice that everybody thinks of us. We're a small country ... unfortunately this can happen anywhere."
Hushovd and Boasson Hagen won two stages each in this year's race.
Associated Press writer Jamey Keaten contributed to this report.
Updated July 25, 2011