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Australian Cadel Evans all but clinches Tour de France title

GRENOBLE, France — Cadel Evans rocketed past the finish line Saturday, all but certain of his triumph in the Tour de France.

The Australian did more than close the 57-second gap by which he trailed Luxembourg's Andy Schleck on Friday. He obliterated it, making Schleck look as if he were moving in slow motion.

As Evans tugged on the yellow jersey, tears welled in his eyes.

Although there is one more stage — today's ceremonial finish in Paris — the leader after the time trial is almost certain to be the winner. Launching a successful attack during that flat ride is virtually impossible.

Evans will become the first Australian to win the Tour de France and will do so at age 34, after twice finishing in second.

"I can't believe it all quite now," he said. "Twenty years of work has been put into this performance."

Schleck, 26, found himself at the opposite extreme. He had suffered for nearly three weeks, over 2,105 miles, to secure the yellow jersey on Friday. Yet he held it for only 24 hours and will be runner­up — for the third straight year.

Still, the Schleck family made history, as Frank, Andy's older brother, held on for third overall. Today, the two will stand on either side of Evans on the podium, brothers capturing two of the top three slots for the first time.

"I had again the experience of yellow, I won a stage, it's been a good tour," Andy Schleck said. "I go home with my head high; I don't go home as a loser."

France's Thomas Voeckler finished fourth overall, and Spain's Alberto Contador, the defending champion, claimed fifth. Tony Martin of Germany won the time trial Saturday, but Evans came in second, which, in the overall standings, was more than good enough for the yellow jersey.

As the contenders set off Satur­day, one by one, Evans stared straight ahead. He trailed Andy Schleck by 57 seconds and knew he had 26 miles to close the gap.

Schleck left last, gritting his teeth, clad in the yellow jersey. He looked unsettled, perhaps tired. Meanwhile, Evans powered smoothly and calmly, chewing up the deficit in large chunks and turning it into a 1:34 advantage.

The Schleck brothers, knowing they had lost, embraced after the finish line of the 26-mile time trial. Evans leads Andy by 1:34 and Frank by 2:30.

For the Tour de France to be decided on the final competitive stage is rare. For it to be decided by an individual time trial is rarer still. For inspiration, though, Evans could have looked to American Greg LeMond, who made up 50 seconds in a 1989 time trial to seize the overall win.

And for Evans, it has been a long ride to this moment. He finished second in 2007 and 2008, and fractured his elbow in 2010.

"I've had some bad moments in the last 10 years," he said. "But that just makes the good moments even better."

. Fast facts

Tour de France

Saturday: Stage 20, a time trial of 26.4 miles in the Alpine city of Grenoble. The route was hilly and technical but had no major climbs. Tony Martin, the German time-trial specialist, completed the course in 55 minutes, 33 seconds, edging Australian Cadel Evans by 7 seconds.

Yellow jersey: Evans' fantastic ride took him from third place to first overall, with a lead of 1:34 over Andy Schleck of Luxembourg. With the final stage little more than a victory parade, Evans is guaranteed the victory.

Today: The final stage starts in the suburb of Creteil and ends on Paris' Champs-Elysees. For the overall race winner, it will be a long celebratory procession. But for the sprinters, the stage victory and green-points jersey are in play.

Australian Cadel Evans all but clinches Tour de France title 07/23/11 [Last modified: Saturday, July 23, 2011 10:08pm]
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