‘Cuddles’ may be the epithet given to Cadel Evans by the international community, but it certainly does not seem to describe a 35 year old winner (oldest since the war) of arguably the most gruelling sporting event in the world. Evans described yesterday as the culmination of “20 years of hard work,” and nothing could be nearer to the truth.
His struggles started at birth, as he was born 34 days past the due date, with a broken nose. Then at the tender age of eight he got kicked in the head by his mother’s horse. It left him in coma for a week as doctors struggled to pull fragments of the skull from his brain. Evans displayed his resilience even at such young age, surprising everyone by returning to school within a month of the accident.
Now after endless hours of toil and 8 broken collar bones later he stands tallest in his sport, at the winner’s podium of the Tour de France 2011. I admit it might not sound as impressive as Armstrong’s seven victories, but it does not make the Australian’s achievement any less either. To understand that, look beyond the glitz of the Champs-Élysées, at the two painful second places, the crashes, travelling and multiple surgeries and you might start to get the point.
The last stage though was never a challenge for him or any other rider, except Mark Cavendish and José Joaquín Rojas. The duo were separated by a mere 15 points in the green jersey classification, with Rojas the clear outsider here. Cav in the form he is and the incredible HTC-Express to steam him towards the finish, it would have to a mistake from the Manxman and not a powerful sprint that would win the Movistart rider his first jersey.
This year the route was shortened as the organisers realised there is only so long a procession can entice spectators. For most of the last stage in the Tour the atmosphere is amiable with riders holding arms, sipping champagne and joking around. I think the pic below best encapsulates the casual nature of the 21st day of any Tour de France:
Evan’s team BMC had the honour of leading the Tour into Paris and a traditional ride up the world’s most famous boulevard. Thereafter followed six laps down the Louvre, up Rue de Rivoli and around Place de la Concarde, turning these impressive landmarks into a battleground. Team Sky instigated two breakaways through Juan Antonia Flecha and Ben Swift, but they were eventually gobbled up by the peloton.
In a nutshell the HTC lead out men launched Cav to perfection YET again, who then easily held off a hard charging Basson Hagen to claim his fifth victory this year and an impressive third consecutive win at the Champs-Élysées. Cavendish also becomes the first British rider to win the green jersey on Le Tour and has raised his overall stage win tally to 20 from just 5 appearances!
Then it was time for the ceremonies for the awardees, against one of the best backdrop imaginable – Le Arc de Triomphe. Apart from the four jersey winners, Jérémy Roy was declared the super combative rider for this year and Garmin-Cervélo won the overall team honours.
This is a brutal event – more so this year considering the spate of crashes which led to only 167 riders making it to the finish line in Paris compared to the 198 that started at Passage du Gois. This fact has never slipped on the organisers and hence every finisher in the Tour gets a medal and the lifelong right to be known as géant de la route.
Most experts – and all French fans – have tacitly voted Team Europcar as the soul of the 98th Tour de France. Indeed a team that was without a main sponsor and had to undergo a strict cost cutting regime has performed beyond dreams. Ten days in yellow for Voeckler, stage win on the iconic Alpe d’Huez and the white jersey for the best young rider for Pierre Rolland is an impressive record, which beats some of the big name teams.
The great Lance Armstrong himself called Rolland a “rockstar” for his untiring efforts in supporting Veoeckler to stay in the lead - and praise does not come much higher than that. Europcar have laid their hands on a goldmine as the PR and digital attention they received would have far outstripped their investment. The car rental company acknowledged the fantastic work done by the team in this touching and beautiful advert in Sunday’s L’Equipe.
But the story of this Tour for me has to be Johnny Hoogerland. The rider who cartwheeled into a barbed wire fence on stage 9, rode for twelve days through mountains and rain with more than 30 stitches and multiple lacerations. That he managed to finish is commendable enough, but the fact he made it 74th overall is pure legendary! I am out of words here, maybe the organisers should have felicitated him with a special award or something.
Pain and suffering are a sad but inseparable part of cycling in general, and the Tour in particular. This episode saw big names like Bradley Wiggins and Alexandre Vinokourov succumb to horrific injuries. Thank god they have made out of it relatively unscathed. It pains everyone if in today’s age an athlete is lost to the world participating in a sporting event – like the young and talented Wouter Weylandt sadly did on the Giro this year. Hopefully we shall never have to see such a black day ever again.
It’s a sad feeling every year once the Tour finishes, and now starts a long 11 month wait. These riders ofcourse don’t rest and most would be setting their eyes on the London Olympics before the next Tour. Andy Schleck has yet to meet his destiny, and I strongly belive it is only a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if’ he will win the Tour. For now, I bow to Cadel Evans who has proved he can not only fight, but also win against the best. In fact I salute all 198 participants who had the courage to start in the first place.
Each of the 98 Tours till date have stories of their own, stories of pain, stories of glory, stories of courage, but above all stories the likes of Armstrong have narrated. The message I take out of them is we do not know our own limits, and we never shall till we challenge ourselves. So if you have been reading this space, you do not need to cycle 3400kms across France to prove anything, go out run a marathon, ride a race, swim in a triathlon, do anything, cause (again as Armstrong says) ‘it will make you feel alive, and that should be a good enough reason to do just about anything.’ So till next year then
Jersey holders: General Classification:
Maillot Jaune – Cadel Evans Cadel Evans – 86h 12’ 22” Maillot Vert – Mark Cavendish Andy Schleck – 86h 13’ 56” Maillot à Pois Rouges – Samuel Sánchez Frank Schleck – 86h 14’ 52” Maillot Blanc – Pierre Rolland
ps: I’ll leave you with probably the best image of this year’s Tour (well atleast for the boys)