Low-profile Evans claims spectacular Tour win

PARIS, (Reuters) – Cadel Evans might not be the most  sparkling rider, yet he won the most spectacular Tour de France in years.

HISTORIC! Cadel Evans yesterday became the first Australia to win the Tour de France event.

Evans barely attacked during the three-week competition but his resilience, combined with Alberto Contador’s failure and the Schleck brothers’ errors, allowed him to become the first Australian to win the most famous cycling race.

Although fully deserved, Evans’s triumph has a transitional  feel. The BMC rider is, at 34 years and five months, the oldest  cyclist to win the Tour since 1923 and is highly unlikely to  start a long-term reign.

Knowing it was one of his last chances to win the Tour after  two runner-up finishes in 2007 and 2008, the 2009 world champion  left nothing to chance.

“We rode every stage like a one-day race, as if it were the  last stage,” his BMC team manager John Lelangue said.

In a tricky first week, BMC, with classics riders such as  George Hincapie and Manuel Quinziato used to jostling for  position in the peloton, were often riding in front of the pack  to protect their leader from potential crashes and Evans escaped  unhurt.

“We were often criticised for pulling the pack but we wanted  to be in front to stay safe,” Lelangue explained.

Despite the most miserable weather on the Tour de France in  years, Evans managed to stay safe throughout while several  outside contenders such as Belgian Jurgen van den Broeck and  Briton Bradley Wiggins crashed out early in the race.

Kazakh Alexandre Vinokourov’s career ended in a ditch in one  of many massive pile-ups to mar the Tour and concerns over the  race’s safety threatened to overshadow the action.

Dutchman Johnny Hoogerland and Spain’s Juan Antonio Flecha  were hit by a French TV car and although they escaped with  bruises, the accident was waiting to happen.

“They’re definitely trying to make the racing look more  spectacular for the spectators, and to the detriment of our  safety at times,” Briton David Millar told Reuters before the  incident.

“It’s the way it goes, the organisers push the limits until  they pass them and we’re getting quite close to passing the  limits of what is reasonable. I think there might need to be a  rethink.”

The Schlecks, the first brothers to finish together on a  Tour de France podium, also criticised the organisers by  claiming some of the descents were too dangerous.

In one of them, Andy Schleck, who finished second overall  behind Evans, lost over a minute to the Australian after taking  no risks in the descent to La Rochette following a Contador  attack.

Luxembourg’s Schleck, however, launched a long-range attack  in the most gruelling Alpine stage to the Col du Galibier,  powering away from the pack 60 kilometres from the finish and  defying strong headwind to spring into contention

That move also sealed Contador’s fate.

The 28-year-old Spaniard — unbeaten since 2007 in  three-week races — suffered a rare collapse two kilometres from  the finish, losing almost four minutes to Schleck and two to  Evans.

After holding back in the Alpe d’Huez stage, where Contador  jumped away with Schleck almost 100 kilometres from the finish  to salvage his pride, Evans trailed Andy by 57 seconds.

He easily overhauled the deficit with an impressive final  time trial, a discipline Schleck never really mastered. The  Luxembourg ride paid for his shortcomings as he finished second  overall for the third year in succession.

“I’m only 26. I will be back and I will be back to win,”  said Schleck, beaten by Contador in 2009 and 2010.

Contador, who came to the Tour exhausted and was hampered by a string of crashes early on, awaits a decision over a failed  dope test last season.

If he does return to the world’s greatest cycle race, Andy  Schleck and the others might struggle to surpass the Spaniard.

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