Australian Wins Tour at Grenoble Time Trial: Martin wins Stage

Cadel Evans with a towel around his neck before the time trial in Grenoble (c) Benepe

July 24, 2011, Paris, France

Australian Cadel Evans accomplished the unexpected yesterday when he overcame the odds and won the Tour de France.

In the final stage before Paris, Evans made up the deficit he had with Andy Schleck, and passed it mightily by besting his time in the time trial in Grenoble.

He is now the oldest competitor since World War II and the first Australian to win the big French race. Although he was considered one of the favorites to win perhaps the most challenging stage race in the world, he was not expected to be the winner.

Instead, the BMC Team rider prevailed at Le Galibier and would not let challenger and the better

Alberto Contador before the time trial: this was not his year (c) Benepe

climber Andy Schleck get the better of him.

Two times Evans failed to win in the time trials in 2007 against Alberto Contador and again in 2008 in a match against Carlos Sastre. It was perhaps the last time the 34 year old could win the Tour, and he made the time trial his best effort, besting Schleck by 2 minutes and 34 seconds.

Frank Schleck offers his brother some water before start (c) Benepe

German Tony Martin who rides for the HTC Highroads team was the winner of yesterday’s time trial besting his rivals with a time of 55 minutes and 33 seconds.

Speaking with reporters Evans said it was challenging working against the two Schleck brothers, and he would have preferred to have taken time from them before the time trial.

He also credited his effort at le Galibier when he fought to regain time from the brothers by leading the chase group. “It was that initiative on that day that allowed me without a doubt to be where I am now,” he said.

But two days ago at l’Alpe D’Huez he said he conserved energy in order to win at Grenoble. Andy and his brother Frank Schleck will be second and third on the podium in Paris today, both having preserved their positions in the final time trial.

Voeckler on the Chrono about to go off (c) Benepe

Last year’s champion of the Tour Alberto Contador came in fifth in the general classification. After losing more than 3 minutes in a crash in the early race stages, the Spaniard who rode for Team SaxoBank this year seemed to suffer both physically from a hurt knee, and psychologically during the Tour.

He seemed to fight back in the mountains, but his efforts appeared to be without his usual force: perhaps he knew his deficit was too great to make up against the Schleck brothers and Cadel Evans. He may have also suffered additional mental wounds from earlier accusations of doping in last year’s Tour.

Next year no doubt he will be the underdog.

At the Start

Thomas Voelcker won the hearts of the French this year, holding the Maillot Jaune for 10 stages. Fans gave him a tremendous welcome at the start line where, resplendent in his green Europcar skin suit, he stretched both before he entered the depart, and then again at the start.

A sign held high by someone in the crowd read “You let us dream, Voeckler.”

Adjusting Voeckler's bike before the race (c) Benepe

But despite his best time trial time ever coming in 13th in the stage, he could not make up the deficit against the Australian and the two Luxembourgans, coming in 3 minutes and 20 seconds behind Evans.

As the riders came to the start line, Voeckler and Evans stood almost back to back in

Evans and Voeckler both pensive before the time trial (c) Benepe

contemplation of what was to come. Perhaps each was reflecting his destiny.

A rider with the reputation of being a little strange—one rider once told the media that Evans talked to himself in the mirror before a big race—Evans did not disappoint. He came to the start line with a massive towel wrapped around his thick neck, and stared out into space, concentrating perhaps on the enormous task ahead of him—to take back more than 57 seconds from Andy Schleck, and add a few more for a final flourish.

Most riders were impossible thin, wearing long sleeved skinsuits that showed every ripple of muscle. By comparison one could almost say that Evans was big.

In today’s stage of the Tour, the riders will ride into Paris in what is considered more of a formality, with the exception that the sprinters will be working for a final placement and points at the line.

For the first time, the young man from the Isle of Man, and HTC Highroads sprinter could win the Green Jersey for best overall sprinter when the teams come into Paris.

That honor went to Thor Hushovd last year, but this year the Norwegian who rides for Team Garmin Cervelo said he had other intentions: he won two stages, but it was not clear if he at one time was looking for a general classification position.

Today’s stage promises to be one of great spectacle, as the French salute their hero Voeckler, and the runner up French hero, Pierre Rolland who stole the stage at l’Alpe D’Huez from some of the greatest climbers in the world.

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