Australian Cadel Evans wins Tour de France
The Tour de France has a new winner after Australian Cadel Evans conquered the most prestigious cycling race in the world.
Many questioned if Evans, twice the Tour runner-up and aged 34, was capable of winning a three-week Grand Tour, but the 2009 world champion proved the doubters wrong.
Evans fought off the challenge of Andy Schleck, who had to settle for a third successive year on the second step of the podium, Frank Schleck, Thomas Voeckler and Alberto Contador, the defending champion.
Prior to the 2011 Tour, Contador had won six straight Grand Tours entered - the Tour in 2007, 2009 and 2010, the Giro d'Italia in 2008 and 2011 and the Vuelta a Espana in 2008.
Evans' triumph avoided heaping yet more controversy on cycling, for had pre-race favourite Contador won, the result would have been decided by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
The Spaniard's 2010 success - and subsequent results - are in jeopardy as he will be from August 1 subject of a CAS hearing into his positive test for clenbuterol at last year's Tour. He protests his innocence, attributing the result to contaminated meat.
For Contador, the Tour has been a tortuous experience, from the moment when he was booed like a pantomime villain at the team presentation in the Coliseum at the Puy de Fou theme park.
Perhaps in sympathy following his fall and lost time on the opening stage and the following day's team time-trial, Contador received an easy ride thereafter - until he had to swat away a spectator in surgical scrubs as he led the field up Alpe d'Huez last Friday.
That was Contador's last stand in the 2011 Tour - fatigue from the Giro and a knee injury contributing to his troublesome three weeks as he finished fifth and without a day in the yellow jersey.
Prior to the Tour getting under way, the three weeks were again expected to be about the leading riders in each of the last two years - Contador and Andy Schleck.
The latter, from Luxembourg, propelled himself into contention with a sensational solo display to win at Galibier Serre-Chevalier, the highest summit finish in Tour history.
He then seized the maillot jaune after ending Voeckler's courageous and tenacious 10-day stint in yellow at Alpe d'Huez, leaving France still without a winner of their home race since 1985 and without a rider on the podium since 1997.
Evans then ruthlessly exposed the Schleck brothers' deficiencies against the clock in the 42.5km time-trial in Grenoble, propelling himself into the yellow jersey with one day to go, leaving the Luxembourg duo to settle for being the first siblings on the Tour podium.
There were three weeks of epic racing, but the Tour was not without controversy - with the question of doping still hanging over the sport.
Belgian team QuickStep had their bus seized by police on the eve of the Grand Depart in the Vendee. They later reported it was a routine check and nothing untoward was found.
By the finish in Paris, there was one positive test - Alexandre Kolobnev of the Katusha team excluded from the Tour.
Whether more adverse doping results are reported remains to be seen in the coming days and weeks - it was the end of September before Contador's positive test was made public in 2010.
Thirty others also failed to make it to the Champs-Elysees in a Tour noted for crashes.
The first week which saw a swathe of riders crash out.
Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) suffered a broken collarbone on a rather innocuous section of road on stage seven, ending his hopes of being the first Briton on the Tour podium for another year.
Alexandre Vinokourov, the controversial Kazakh, flew off the side of the road into some trees, fracturing his thigh bone and later announcing his retirement. The very same crash accounted for three others.
There were also preventable collisions.
On stage five a photographer's motorbike dragged down Danish champion Nicki Sorensen, while on stage nine, a French television car wiped out Juan Antonio Flecha (Team Sky), who knocked over fellow escapee Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil) - an incident which appears worse every time it is replayed.
Thankfully the duo were not seriously hurt and both recovered to reach Paris.
Norway and Great Britain enjoyed a successful Tour, with Thor Hushovd becoming the first world champion to win a Tour stage since 2002, while Mark Cavendish dominated the sprints for a fourth straight year and took the green jersey.
But the three weeks belonged to Evans, who was the most consistent rider and deservedly triumphed, four years after first reaching the Tour podium.
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