GRENOBLE, France Cadel Evans rocketed past the finish line Saturday, all but certain of his triumph in the Tour de France. As fellow Australians everywhere burst into celebration, Evans presented them with the portrait of a champion: body bent, muscles bulging, vigilant until the end.
Evans did more than close the 57-second gap by which he trailed Andy Schleck of Luxembourg on Friday. He obliterated it, making Schleck look as if he were moving in slow motion. As he tugged on the yellow jersey, tears welled in his eyes.
When he pedals slowly into Paris today, champagne glass in hand, Evans will become the first Australian to win the Tour de France. He will do so at age 34, after finishing second in 2007 and 2008, on the heels of a 26.4-mile sprint that was equally assertive and decisive.
"I can't believe it all quite now," Evans stammered after placing second in the time trial to Germany's Tony Martin. "Twenty years of work has been put into this performance."
Andy Schleck found himself at the opposite extreme. He had suffered for nearly three weeks, over 2,105 miles, to finally secure the yellow jersey Friday. Yet he held it for only 24 hours and is bound for his customary position: runner-up for the third consecutive year.
Although Schleck reaffirmed his prowess as an elite climber in this year's Tour, he also continued his struggles off the mountains. He said he had hoped the yellow jersey would give him wings in his showdown with Evans. If it did, it appeared they were clipped.
Still, the Schleck family made some history, as Frank Schleck, Andy's older brother, held on for third place overall. The Schlecks insisted they would prefer to have one brother win, not have both finish near the top. But today, they will stand on either side of Evans on the podium, brothers taking two of the top three slots for the first time.
As the contenders set off Saturday, one by one, on the stage that would decide the overall winner, Evans stared straight ahead, his face blank. Evans knew that although he had been the most consistent rider in this race, he had 26 miles, a blip in cycling, to close the gap.
Andy Schleck left last, gritting his teeth, clad in the yellow jersey. He looked unsettled, perhaps tired, while Evans powered smoothly, calm. It became clear before the halfway mark that Evans would surpass him. Evans cut into the gap immediately, chewing up the deficit in large chunks, and he turned it into a 1:34 advantage.
At his news conference, Evans praised his teammates, trainers, engineers and his coach of eight years, Aldo Sassi, who died of cancer in December. Evans began to tear up as he discussed Sassi.
Misfortune had marked Evans' Tour performances. He crashed as the presumed favorite in 2008 and broke his elbow in 2010. In between, he switched teams, joining BMC Racing.
"I've had some bad moments in the last 10 years," Evans said. "But that just makes the good moments even better."