Tour De France 2011: Cadel Evans Poised to Win Australia's First Tour De France
Cadel Evans has all but won the Tour de France.
Down by 57 seconds to Andy Schleck entering the penultimate stage of cycling's best known race, which is 21 stages and 2,132 miles in length this year, the Australian used his time trial prowess to defeat the Luxemborgian by two minutes, 27 seconds, taking the overall lead by a minute-and-a-half.
Though there is still one final (albeit flat) stage—a 95 kilometer (58.9 mile) ride from Cretéil to Paris—the chances of the overall standings being altered are very slim, considering that the Tour's final stage is generally considered a "ceremonial" occasion in which the group of riders (commonly known as the peloton) cruise into the French capital.
Barring a crash or mechanical problems—both of which are unlikely to affect the final stage, considering the pack moves slow—Evans will become the first Australian to win the tour.
Coming into the second-to-last stage, many cycling pundits predicted that Evans' ability in time trials wouldn't be enough to close the gap on Schleck. Unlike normal stages, where all racers start at once, time trials feature riders starting individually, being released from the starting gate at a set interval. (This particular time trial featured a rider starting every three minutes.)
Success in time trials rely heavily on aerodynamics and the ability to "race against the clock," as competitors often rely on "splits" transmitted via radio to give them an idea of their position in comparison to other racers who have already gone.
Indeed, time trials are a much different beast than stages that are based on climbing.
However, despite much skepticism, Evans defied the odds. By the first checkpoint, located at the 15 kilometer (9.3 mile) mark, the former World Champion had closed the overall gap on Schleck to 21 seconds. At the next, this one at 17.1 miles, Evans had put 35 ticks on Schleck in the overall standings.
Despite crossing the line visibly exhausted, the Australian was no doubt thrilled with the outcome, his eyes red with tears of joy as he received the Yellow Jersey, given to the overall leader of the race.
While the defeat will be heartbreak for Schleck—whose older brother, Frank, will likely take third in the Tour—it has to be said that Evans has been knocking at the door for quite some time.
The 34-year-old placed second in both 2007 and 2008, finishing behind Spaniards Alberto Contador and Carlos Sastre, respectively. Schleck also has a pair of seconds, from the 2009 and 2010 editions. Needless to say, both riders had plenty of desire to emerge victorious this year.
Though it is all but certain that he will have to wait another year, Schleck—unlike Evans—likely has plenty more chances left. Many professional cyclists retire from racing in their mid-to-late thirties, as the impact of racing often takes a toll on their aging bodies. Evans is in the twilight of his career; the man from Luxemborg is still by and large in the "day."
Despite the all-but-certain loss by their favorite rider, many fans of Schleck are happy for Evans, as he has virtually claimed cycling's biggest prize before calling time on his illustrious career.
Regardless of affiliation, it will likely be nice for cycling supporters to see one of the sport's most humble and likeable characters standing atop the podium tomorrow afternoon in Paris.
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