After three weeks, 21 stages and more crashed than are almost possible to count – one of the most spectacular being on the Le Mans to Châteauroux stretch which dramatically ended Bradley Wiggins contention – the 2011 Tour de France has rolled to an end.
Clearly time zones meant nothing to Australians as they stayed up through the night to watch their new national hero cycle to victory in Paris. Although the final stage was little more than ceremonial with Cadel Evans having all but been guaranteed Tour de France success by the end of the previous day’s Individual Time Trials it didn’t stop the land down under partying through the small hours in celebration of the first Australian ever to take the Tour crown – the victory also marks only the third occasion that a non-European has taken the prize. The live final broadcast by SBS Television clocked up its highest figures for the year with almost 2.5 million viewers across the country (which represented more than 10 percent of the population.) In addition almost every newspaper front page and sports section featured Evans despite going to press some considerable time before the Champs-Élysées-set win.
The question of how to commemorate the historic occasion is already being hotly debated; statues, monuments and parades have already been mooted, whilst it has been rumoured that Evans himself is in favour of a national day of holiday (unsurprising after the last three weeks of hard work) which some have suggested will be known as “Yellow Day”. Missing either the joke or the national mood, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard was quick to rule out the possibility of a national holiday, but still praised Evans for his efforts. Meanwhile the citizens in Barwon Heads outside Melbourn have pitched the idea of naming a bridge near the town in honour of their new favourite citizen.
But whilst Evans relaxed into his ride on Sunday, Mark Cavendish certainly did not.
The moment that Cavendish appeared from behind his HTC-Highroad team mate Mark Renshaw on the Champs-Elysees, was a true Tour de France moment of certainty. The moment it became clear that the Manx Missile would bag the final stage, the moment it became obvious he would take the green jersey and the moment that Cavendish would fulfil a lifetime ambition and prove himself the greatest sprinter of his generation. If that alone were not enough, the occasion also marked the first rider ever to take three consecutive Paris finish wins – indeed until last year’s success in the French capital no one before him had achieved two consecutive wins. Speaking after the race his wonderfully succinct “I am super, super happy!” seemed to be the perfectly judged understatement; the kind of remark that makes the rider such an heroic role model not only on his native Isle of Man, but across the UK and beyond.
Although Cavendish went into this year’s Tour with high hopes, the first real glimpse of the genius that was to unfold came on Stage 5 (164.5km Carhaix – Cap Frehel), where, against expectations, Cavendish managed a masterful uphill finish – arguably the most impressive of his Tour career to date. Despite some setbacks he continued to accumulate the points through to the pivotal 167.5km Stage 11 (Blaye-les-Mines to Lavaur) where he took green before consolidating things in the speed stakes with his fourth stage win on Limoux – Montpellier (Stage 15). His only major setback during the three weeks came on Stage 18 when he failed to complete the day’s work within the set time limit, but was fortunately deducted points (20 of them) rather than being disqualified.
Whether Cavendish will return in 2012 with full conviction in defending the green jersey will depend in large part on his plan of attack for the London Olympic Games which start less than two weeks after the Tour ends. But for now, Cavendish can relish his incredible victory and might well like to suggest to the good people of the Isle of Man that they kick celebrations on with a local holiday – “Green Day” would seem an appropriate name.
Final 2011 Tour de France General Classifications
1 Cadel Evans, BMC 86h 12’22”
2 Andy Schleck, Leopard Trek +1’34”
3 Frank Schleck, Leopard Trek +2’30”
4 Thomas Voeckler, Europcar +3’20”
5 Alberto Contador, Saxo Bank Sungard +3’57”
6 Samuel Gonzalez, Euskaltel-Euskadi +4’55”
7 Damiano Cunego (It) Lampre – ISD +6’5”
8 Ivan Basso (It) Liquigas-Cannondale +7’23”
9 Tom Danielson (US) Team Garmin-Cervelo +8’15”
10 Jean-Christophe Peraud (Fr) AG2R La Mondiale +10’11”
For further results and analysis see: www.letour.fr