Cadel Evans seized the lead for the Tour de France on the penultimate stage, all but securing the Australian his first victory in cycling's biggest event.
Evans stands the test of time to claim yellow jersey in Tour de France
Cadel Evans seized the Tour de France leader's yellow jersey on the penultimate stage yesterday, all but securing the first victory by an Australian in cycling's greatest race.
The 34-year-old veteran, a two-time runner-up, took the lead by overcoming a 57-second deficit to Andy Schleck of Luxembourg in the time trial in and near Grenoble.
On the victory podium, a red-eyed Evans was choked up, holding back tears before hurling the winner's bouquet into the crowd.
"I really can't quite believe it right now," Evans said. "I have been concentrating on one event for so long."
Although there is one more stage, the leader after the time trial was certain to be the overall victor: today's finale on the Champs-Elysees in Paris tends to be a ceremonial ride because launching a successful attack on that flat last stage is virtually impossible.
The Schleck brothers, knowing they had lost, embraced after the finish line. As second and third overall, they will be the first brothers to share the Tour's podium on the Champs-Elysees.
Overall, Evans now leads Andy Schleck by 1min 34secs, and Frank Schleck by 2mins 30secs.
The 20th stage was won by Tony Martin of Germany.
By the first intermediate time check at the 15-kilometre mark, Evans had already erased 36 seconds of his deficit to Andy Schleck and was 34 seconds faster than the elder Schleck, Frank.
At the second, at 27.5 kilometres, Andy Schleck's lead had vanished — Evans was 1:32 faster.
The Leopard-Trek rider was not even among the 10 fastest riders who had crossed that point.
By the end, Evans finished second to Martin — seven seconds behind — and was 2:31 faster than Andy Schleck.
Evans will have won the Tour with only one stage win — the fourth — but his victory will attest to his pinpoint planning and clever pre-race preparation for the title that he has sought but narrowly missed for years.
"This is the victory of a complete rider," said Christian Prudhomme, the Tour director. "This is the consecration."
France's Pierre Rolland reinforced his grip on the Tour's white jersey despite being given a fright by his Estonian rival, Rein Taaramae, on the penultimate stage.
The white jersey winner is usually regarded as a future winner of the yellow jersey and had been won the past three years by Andy Schleck. Rolland became the leader of the race's classification for riders aged 25 and under on Friday after a sensational maiden stage win on Alpe d'Huez.
He went into the 42.5km time trial around Grenoble with a 1min 33secs lead on Taaramae, who finished 10th in the 20th stage.
Despite harbouring doubts, Europcar rider Rolland limited the damage to finish 21st, only 47secs behind.
It means he will probably keep the jersey after the final stage.
"There are only four jerseys on the Champs Elysees podium, and I'm going to be in one of them," beamed Rolland, who sits 11th overall in the race, 10:43 behind Evans.
Taaramae is 12th overall at 11:29.
Rolland, who spent the best part of the second and third week helping his team leader, Thomas Voeckler, defend the yellow jersey, acknowledged that he simply had better legs than his Estonian rival.
"In theory, Taaramae is a better rider than me but at this stage of the race it comes down to who has the freshest legs, not who has the better physical capabilities."