Tour de France: Cadel Evans wins first ever Tour, Cavendish takes final sprint

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Mark Cavendish of HTC-Highroad won the final sprint of this year's Tour de France on the the Champs Elysées for his third straight victory on the famous boulevard. Mark Renshaw, who perfectly led out Cavendish, had time to celebrate from behind as Cavendish crossed the line. Edvald Boasson Hagen of Team Sky finished second, while André Greipel of Omega Pharma Lotto crossed the line third.

Results

Stage Results

  1. Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad)
  2. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Sky)
  3. André Greipel (Omega Pharma Lotto)
  4. Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Cervélo)
  5. Fabian Cancellara (Leopard Trek)

Final General Classification

  1. Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team)
  2. Andy Schleck (Leopard Trek) 1:34
  3. Fränk Schleck (Leopard Trek) 2:30
  4. Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) 3:20
  5. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank) 3:57
  6. Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel Euskadi) 4:55
  7. Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD) 6:05
  8. Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) 7:23
  9. Tom Danielson (Garmin-Cervélo) 8:15
  10. Jean-Christophe Péraud (AG2R) 10:11

On the final circuits, a break went up the road and Jérémy Roy of Français des Jeux celebrated his Super-Combatif prize with one last escape. But the sprinters' teams never gave them much space to ride and they never offered much threat to the traditional sprint on the Champs Elysées.

In the final kilometers, Lars Bak of HTC-Highroad attacked in an effort to force the other sprinters' teams to work. Behind, the chase took some time to organize, but soon Omega Pharma Lotto went to the front for their sprinter André Greipel, while Garmin-Cervélo slotted in behind them for Tyler Farrar.

With 1.5 kilometers to go, Belgian National Champion Philippe Gilbert led the field, then HTC-Highroad came out of hiding and set up Mark Cavendish perfectly for the finish. Sunday marked the twentieth career Tour de France stage victory for Cavendish, who also won the first Green Jersey of his career.

Cadel Evans of BMC Racing Team celebrated his first ever Tour de France victory. He pulled on the Yellow Jersey after the final time trial in Grenoble, but he won the Tour by chasing every possible advantage in the opening stages and with a doggedly determined defense in the high mountains. Evans won by 1:36 ahead of Andy Schleck of Leopard Trek. For the first time in the history of the Tour de France, two brothers will stand on the final podium. Fränk Schleck finished third.

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This Tour pitted two very different riders against one another. For the first two weeks, Andy Schleck waited, while Evans played the opportunist. Evans picked up valuable time on the Mûr de Bretagne, where he won the stage and during the early uphill finishes of the race. Schleck sat back. Through the Pyrénées, the favorites stalemated and pulled taut the plot line. No one yet held the upper hand, it remained anyone's race to win. Evans_and_schleck_medium

Schleck staked his entire Tour de France on the Alps, and specifically on a massive attack on the road to the col du Galibier. It very nearly worked. When Schleck attacked on the col de l'Izoard, none could answer, and he soon held the Yellow Jersey on the road. As he approached the final climb, Schleck had nearly four minutes over the other favorites. It looked like his Tour to lose.

Like a well-crafted novel, every Tour de France has its pivot, that point at which the narrative turns. In this Tour de France, the climb up the col du Galibier providing the turning point. With Schleck running out the clock, Evans went to the front and began a long chase. Several riders sat on his wheel, but they could offer little help. If he wanted to win the Tour, Evans had to do this one himself.

Andy Schleck rarely shows the effects of his efforts. He rides so smooth, so controlled even in the highest mountains. But in the final kilometers of the Galibier, his face showed his fatigue and his legs turned to rubber. From the commissaires car, Eddy Merckx shouted encouragement, while behind, lower on the mountain, Evans continued his inexorable chase. And the clock ticked down.

In the group with Evans sat the improbable Thomas Voeckler on the ride of his life. Voeckler could not do much to help Evans, but he hoped to defend his Yellow Jersey for just one more day. In the end he did, as Evans successfully kept Schleck from running out the clock and winning the Tour de France right then and there.

119511231_medium The following stage in the Alps, the race to the storied Alpe d'Huez, followed a similar pattern. Schleck joined an early attack by Alberto Contador on the col du Télégraphe, while behind, Evans ground out kilometer after kilometer in pursuit. This time, Evans had help from his team, notably the U.S. rider Brent Bookwalter riding his first Tour de France. The favorites reached the final climb together, and remained locked together through the twenty-one switchbacks to the summit of the Alpe d'Huez.

With the mountains at an end, the advantage switched to Evans, who has a history of big rides against the watch, including a Tour de France stage victory. But it was never a sure thing after the hard racing of the previous stages. Had Evans cooked himself in the long pursuit efforts through the mountains? Did Schleck have the better form?

The clock answers all questions. Just as in the Tour de France there is a turning point, in every time trial, there is a moment when the time gap teeters in the balance, like it could tilt in the direction of either rider. That moment came early in Grenoble and didn't last long. After racing from the back through the mountains, Evans now had the upper hand. Evans stripped the Yellow Jersey off Andy Schleck and put an end to his hopes of winning this year's Tour. Schleck has now placed second at the Tour on three occasions.

There's always more to the Tour de France than the Yellow Jersey battle, and this year, the long run of Thomas Voeckler in the Yellow Jersey became the race's beating heart. Voeckler took the jersey after a long breakaway in the Massif Centrale and against all expectations held it until the final mountain finish on the Alpe d'Huez. It was a gutsy performance from a rider known for making the most of his talents and snatching victories where he can. 119511367_medium

Voeckler's run in Yellow lasted long enough to raise his hopes, but the road is cruel. On the Tour's second ascent of the col du Galibier, Voeckler sat suspended in no-man's land between a breakaway powered by Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador and the chase driven by Evans and his BMC team. Voeckler believed the bike race was going up the road without him, only to find that he'd in fact ridden himself into the ground for nothing.

On the Alpe d'Huez he rode out of his mind yet again, but it wasn't enough. Voeckler never in his career expected to stand on the podium in Paris, but this Tour raised his hopes. His was an Icarus story, flying high into the clouds, before being dashed precipitously back down to earth.

This Tour has raised talk of a French revival as the first French rider, Pierre Rolland, since Bernard Hinault won on the Alpe d'Huez. Rolland also won the White Jersey of best young rider, while Jean-Christophe Péraud finished tenth overall. Two riders in the top ten overall, a stage victory in the high mountains, and the White Jersey: It was a very good Tour for the French teams and riders.

"Today the racers took back the Tour de France," wrote Edward Pickering of CycleSport after the dramatic finish on the Alpe d'Huez. This Tour was cycling with a human face, as the riders showed their fatigue in a way we haven't seen in years. On Friday, the riders rode through the tunnel at the summit of the col du Galibier, passing from the bright afternoon light into the darkness and back again. Perhaps now cycling has finally exited its own dark tunnel and raced into the light. Long may it remain there.

Here are the final results for the 2011 Tour de France.

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