Evans joined Americans Greg LeMond and Lance Armstrong as well as Irishman Stephen Roche on the winners list and no one will begrudge him the biggest result of his illustrious career after so many years of heartbreak and near-misses.
Twice a runner-up in 2007 and 2008, the 34-year-old from Katherine, Northern Territory appeared to be after cresting his best days and many believed a Tour win was beyond him with the likes of Alberto Contador and the Schleck brothers to contend with in one of the most star-studded line-ups in the race’s recent history.
However, one by one they all met different fates. Bad crashes eliminated the likes of Bradley Wiggins, Jurgen Van den Broeck and Alexander Vinokourov while the aforementioned trio simply had to bow to a superior force, illustrated most poignantly on Saturday’s penultimate stage, a 42 kilometre time-trail around the streets of Grenoble.
Evans trailed Andy Schleck by 57 seconds but the test against the clock highlighted the gulf in class between the two; the Australian blitzing the heir apparent to his throne by some two and a half minutes in a devastating show of strength.
That result put Evans into the maillot jaune by one minute and 34 seconds and that was never going to be overturned on the largely processional ride into the country’s capital yesterday.
On the victor’s podium, a red-eyed Evans held back tears before hurling the winner’s bouquet into the crowd.
“I really can’t quite believe it right now,” he said. “I have been concentrating on one event for so long.
“I’ve had some bad moments in the last 10 years but that just makes the good moments even better. I can’t quite believe it all now. My thanks go to everyone who played a part — 20 years of work has been put into this performance.”
Andy Schleck, who has now finished runner-up three times, insisted he did everything possible to triumph. He said: “Cadel did the time-trial of his life and he deserves to win the Tour. We know we did everything we could do in the mountains and today.
“Both Frank and I probably did the best time-trials we have ever done, but it wasn’t good enough.
“It’s disappointing in a way, but if you look at the size and importance of the Tour, it’s a real honour to be second especially when your brother is one step down.”
Mark Cavendish (HTC Highroad) won yesterday’s final stage on the Champs-Élysées for a third successive year, taking his tally of Tour de France stage wins to an incredible 20 in four years. It was the sprinter’s fifth win of the 2011 race and fittingly, the Isle-of-Man sprinter collected the green points jersey.
Ireland’s Nicolas Roche crossed the line in 127th place to secure 26th on the overall general classification.