Evans on verge of Tour win
Cadel Evans has all but won the Tour de France after hammering Andy Schleck in Saturday's decisive time trial.
Last Updated: 23/07/11 5:04pm
Cadel Evans is poised to become the first Australian winner of the Tour de France after a stunning performance in the individual time trial, the penultimate stage of this year's race.
Evans started the 42.5 kilometres course in Grenoble 57 seconds behind Andy Schleck, his chief rival for the yellow jersey, but beat him by over two and a half minutes to take an overall lead of one minute and 34 seconds into the largely ceremonial final day in Paris.
Evans has been second twice before in cycling's biggest race but he made no mistake when the chance of a first victory emerged.
He soon cut into Schleck's lead and was the virtual leader by the halfway stage before hammering home his advantage on the second part of the course.
Indeed Evans' time was good enough for second place on the day, with only Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad) bettering it to claim the stage win.
The German mirrored his victory on the same course during the Criterium du Dauphine in June, setting the fastest time through each intermediate split en route to his first Tour stage win.
Speaking after crossing the line, an overjoyed and relieved Evans said: “I’ve still got to cross the finish line in Paris tomorrow; that’s my main focus right now – getting through that without any trouble."
Often known as the 'nearly man' of cycling, the Australian looks set to finally lay that tag to rest after a number of previous near misses.
He added: “In 2007 Contador had a particularly good day in the time trial whereas I had an average day. I didn’t have a bad day but I think I was seventh.
"In 2008 I was injured, I was exhausted, I was so on my limit every day and that really showed up in the time trial when everyone expected me to win and take back the time [on Carlos Sastre].
“Today I went through the processes as we always do – follow the plan, do the best we can and see what we come up with. We were a few seconds short for the stage but when I have time to reflect on it I think I’ll see it as pretty special.”
The day also belonged to Martin, who rode an intelligent campaign through the Alps to ensure he had the legs to take one of the biggest wins of his career.
He said: "I wasn’t sure in the first few kilometres whether I was going to have a good time or not but as I got going I had a good feeling and my confidence grew.
"I won here last month over the same course in the Dauphine so I know it very well and I just tried to focus on my technique and rhythm. Knowing that I’d gone well here previously helped with all of that and I knew I’d be okay."
Despite tough trips through the Pyrenees and the Alps everything was still to play for on the penultimate stage.
Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Sungard) set out quickly despite a shaky moment on the start ramp, the Spaniard setting a strong pace throughout the course to take third place, 1:03 down on Martin, but good enough to propel him to fifth overall.
Despite losing the yellow jersey on Alpe-d'Huez on Friday, Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) had clearly not given up on securing a podium place.
The Frenchman was cheered along the course but despite the latest in a long line of gutsy rides, was forced to settle for fourth overall behind Frank Schleck (Leopard Trek).
There was better news for Voeckler's team-mate Pierre Rolland who delighted the home crowd by maintaining the white young rider's jersey following a tense battle with Estonian Rein Taaramae.
The battle for the green jersey will be decided on Sunday's final stage into Paris, with points on offer on the Champs-Elysees on a day that could see current leader Mark Cavendish (HTC-Highroad) write himself further into the history books.