Photo Credit: Christophe Ena/Associated Press

From the New York Times, by Greg Bishop:

PARIS — Cadel Evans became the first Australian and, at 34, the oldest man in 88 years to win the Tour de France on Sunday. He only wished Aldo Sassi had been alive to see it.

Sassi, an Italian, was Evans’s longtime coach, the person most responsible for his transformation from mountain bike champion to road cycling force. Before Sassi died from brain cancer last December, he told Evans one final wish: that he win the prestigious Tour, to become, in Sassi’s words, “the most complete rider of your generation.”

Evans relayed that story Saturday, after he vaulted atop the leader board with a 26-mile sprint that defined both his triumph in this race and the most dramatic Tour in years. As Evans continued, his eyes red and watery, his voice cracked repeatedly, and he bit his bottom lip.

Sassi, Evans said, “often believed in me more than I did.”

This Evans, relaxed and vulnerable, came across as likable, even sympathetic. Thus continued his public transformation. For years, when others in cycling called Evans by his nickname, Cuddles, they did not mean it as a compliment. They meant it in the ironic sense, since Evans often appeared humorless, prone to excuses, excessively private and ill-tempered.

This Evans no longer seemed like a diva in spandex bike shorts, his previous Tour de France history filled with instances of falling down and falling short. Instead, his demeanor throughout this race and his victory spin down the Champs-Élysées on Sunday highlighted how at least recently he had changed, if not forever, then for long enough to win here.

“It’s 20 years since I watched my very first Tour de France, and in all that time, a lot of people have believed in me,” Evans said. Then he reconsidered. “Well, not as many people as a lot of people think.”

Evans entered Sunday’s final stage with one final requirement: he could not crash. Flanked by his BMC racing teammates, including cycling’s lucky rabbit’s foot, George Hincapie, who has now been part of nine Tour wins, Evans smiled as he pedaled.

He shook hands with Spain’s Alberto Contador, who edged Evans in the 2007 Tour by 23 seconds. He chatted with Andy and Frank Schleck of Luxembourg, who finished in second and third place, respectively, the first time brothers have ascended the podium together in this race.

Near the finish, in anticipation of Evans’s final push, his fellow Australians lined the road. Five men wore yellow shirts each emblazoned with one green letter that spelled out his first name. Others draped Australian flags across their backs.

For Kate Allen and Carol Jeffrey of Brisbane, Evans’s performance ranked among the greatest in the history of Australian sports, in the same realm as Pat Cash’s winning Wimbledon in 1987, or when Rod Laver secured not one but two tennis Grand Slams, or, even, when Australia II captured the America’s Cup in 1983.

Evans was told Saturday that the government in Australia would hold a national holiday on Monday in his honor, same as it did for Australia II. That seemed unlikely by Sunday, but it mattered little to the Aussies in attendance.

Read the rest of the story here.


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