Posted by: mdegeorge | July 23, 2011

A deserving Tour finish means Yellow for Cadel

At the end of three weeks of racing, the only thing the organizers, the fans and the riders of the Tour de France can ask for is a clean finish. No results decided by crashes or mechanicals or exclusions, just the strongest man in the field summiting the mountains and riding onto the Champs Elysses with the Yellow Jersey on his shoulders.

In 2011, that will undoubtedly be the case. And Sunday, it will be Cadel Evans, twice the runner-up in the Tour de France, carrying his 34-year-old body onto the podium in Paris for his first Grand Tour win after six top-5 finishes and four top-10s in the Tour alone.

Luck isn’t what defines Evans’ ride through this tour of attrition. Yes, he was fortunate to survive a crash-riddled first week, though he owes that perseverance to a committed team that kept him near the front of the peloton and out of trouble at all times. He was able to benefit time and again as the peloton split late in races, picking up what proved to be valuable seconds on his rivals.

When the mountains hit, Evans was often isolated. But he was the one who did the lions share of the work. On Stage 18 up the Col du Galibier, it was Evans single-handedly on the front of an obstinate group of alleged GC contenders almost exclusively working to limit what looked like a Tour-winning move by Andy Schleck. The following day, when Alberto Contador and the younger Schleck jumped early and sought to stay away to L’Alpe D’Huez, it was the powerhouse Evans who stabilized the gap on the second pass of the Galibier and ensured the swelling peloton would be gruppo compatto when they reached the Alpe. Only Evans new the kind of form he was nurturing on the final stage, and while the other contenders had the impetus to chase if they could, only the Aussie knew his efforts would be rewarded with Yellow in the time trial.

It set him up less than a minute behind Andy Schleck with the final time trial ahead Saturday, and Evans rose to the occasion. Knowing the Schleck’s suffer in races against the clock, Evans blistered the field with the second fastest time on the day, taking 2:31 out of the younger Schleck to don the final Yellow Jersey of the race by a sizeable margin.

In the final test, it wasn’t that Schleck lost his Yellow Jersey; Evans simply ripped it from his shoulders. Evans delivered a phenomenal ride, besting world champion Fabian Cancellara by over a minute and a half. The Schlecks delivered decent times by their standards – Andy finished 17th, 2:38 off the pace of winner Tony Martin, while Frank was three places and three seconds back. But there was simply no denying Evans on this day.

This exact time trial course around Grenoble was contested as Stage 3 of the 2011 Criterium du Dauphine, the overall of which was captured by Bradley Wiggins. Martin also won that stage, finishing in a time of 55 minutes, 27 seconds, a mere six seconds quicker than the time in which he concluded Saturday. Evans finished sixth that day en route to a second-place finish on GC; his time of 56:47 was a full minute slower than the ride he pulled with Yellow in sight Saturday.

It’s hard to find a comparative race against the clock with Evans and the two Schlecks as Evans two previous Tour attempts were riddled by injury and illness, limiting him to two finishes no better than 26th overall. (In the 52-kilometer time trial in Stage 19 of the 2010 Tour, for example, Evans turned in the 166th fastest time out of 170 riders, surely not representative of his true ability.)

But 2008’s Stage 20 gives a frame of reference. Evans finished second in the Tour that year to Carlos Sastre, while a time trial meltdown sent Frank Schleck from second to sixth, as he dropped 3:33 to Evans over the 53-km course. And in 2009, Evans finished the 42.5-km ride in Stage 18 around Annecy 31 seconds ahead of Andy and 1:20 ahead of Frank.

The other would be challengers in the time trial all found themselves too far behind Evans to make an impact. Contador, who has a Tour time trial win to his name, made up ground on some of his competitors. But he couldn’t take time away from Evans. The Schlecks had solid rides through Grenoble. But they proved unable to maintain the margin they left from the mountains.

That’s because that margin was created by the safest man in the flats, the strongest man in the mountains, and the fastest man (among the GC contenders at least) in the time trial.

For that, Evans is a deserving wearer of Yellow.

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Responses

  1. Agree 100%. Cadel is not the most talented rider in the pekoton, but he has been the best, most consistent rider this year, and he and his team have made their own luck by making the right decisions at the right time. His two chases over the Galibier demonstrated just how brilliant his form was, and how determined too. Chapeau, Cadel. You are a very worthy champion at the end of the best Tour I can remember. But congratulations also to Andy, Contador, Voeckler, Gilbert, Hushovd, Boasson Hagen, Cavendish, Hoogerland et al for their contributions to such a rich narrative. They are all heroes in my book.


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