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Far-flung joy in first title

Cadel Evans, for years snidely called “Cuddles’’ as a jab at his once-prickly personality, lets his softer side show in Paris.

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Cadel Evans, for years snidely called “Cuddles’’ as a jab at his once-prickly personality, lets his softer side show in Paris.

PARIS — Cadel Evans has been keeping fans back home up all night watching him become the first Australian to win the Tour de France. It's a victory that has been a long time coming.

Over the years, Evans has been better known for failing to live up to expectations than for overachieving.

He finished second in the 2007 Tour and was expected to win the next year but was runner­up again. Last year he was leading but crashed and fractured his left elbow. The pain was too much, and he dropped out of contention in tears.

This time, persistence and planning paid off.

"I hope I brought a great deal of joy to my countrymen, my country," Evans said Sunday after climbing onto the winner's podium on the Champs-Elysees. "It's been a pleasure and an honor to fly the flag over here."

On the victory lap on Paris' Champs-Elysees, champagne in hand, Evans, 34, seemed to stop to celebrate with every fan bearing an Australian flag.

As he clambered into his BMC team bus, hundreds of people shouted praise, one yelling, "Cadel, we love you!" and others chanting "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie — Oy, Oy, Oy!"

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard joked with Evans about the economic consequences to their nation because fans have been staying up to watch him race on the other side of the world.

"He suggested that it'd all be all right because people would feel so full of morale that they'd be cantering into work and working harder," said Gillard,

Evans' final margin of victory over Andy Schleck of Luxembourg was 1 minute, 34 seconds.

"I want to let the moment sink in,'' Evans' wife, Chiara, said. "Cadel needs some rest. I need some rest, too!"

He's the third non-European to win the Tour since it started in 1903. American Greg LeMond broke the European domination in 1986 with the first of his three wins, and American Lance Armstrong won seven straight starting in 1999.

For years, others in cycling nicknamed Evans "Cuddles,'' but not as a compliment. It was an observation that Evans often appeared humorless, prone to excuses, excessively private and ill-tempered. He has gradually transformed to seeming likeable and sympathetic.

"It's 20 years since I watched my very first Tour de France, and in all that time, a lot of people have believed in me," Evans said. Then he reconsidered. "Well, not as many people as a lot of people think. …

"It has been a long, long process, and it will be a long realization of what has happened."

Far-flung joy in first title 07/24/11 [Last modified: Sunday, July 24, 2011 9:39pm]
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