The Tour de France, one of the most physically gruelling events in world sport, is a bicycle race spanning three weeks and over 3,600km across the French countryside with daily stages covering various types of terrain including the notorious Alps and Pyrenees regions, and the famous sprint along the Champs-Elysees on the final day. Several different classifications of the Tour de France exist, such as the King of the Mountains, Sprint, Young Rider and Overall classification, and leaders of these classifications were a coloured jersey to represent their position.
The Tour de France has had names such as Lance Armstrong, Miguel Indurain and Greg LeMond dominate the sport over the years, with Armstrong winning a record seven consecutive Tours between 1999 and 2005. Cadel Evans’ first place finish in the 2011 Tour de France remains the best overall finish by an Australian in the race’s 109-year history. Queenslander Robbie McEwen has worn the green jersey as the winner of the Sprint classification in 2002 and 2006, and the evergreen Stuart O’Grady has won three stages in his career. Phil Anderson was the first – and one of only five Australians – ever to wear the yellow jersey, back in 1982.
Evans’ dramatic 2011 Tour de France victory ahead of Leopard Trek riders Andy and Frank Schleck was a landmark victory for Australian cycling, with the then-34-year-old Evans becoming the oldest post-War winner of the race. Evans’ gritty performance through the Pyrenees positioned him perfectly leading in to the penultimate stage of the Tour, where he blew away the Schleck brothers by more than two and a half minutes to set up the victory.
The 2012 Tour de France promises to be another fascinating edition of the race with all eyes firmly fixed on Evans and whether the BMC Racing Team rider is able to defend his 2011 title. With Alberto Contador set to miss the 2012 Tour due to a two-year doping ban, Evans’ main challenger should once again be Luxembourg rider Andy Schleck, with Bradley Wiggins and Denis Menchov the other main chances in the general classification.
While Evans obviously represents Australia’s best chance in the general classification, Simon Gerrans will also be looking for a positive result after claiming the 2012 Tour Down Under with newly-formed Australian cycling team GreenEDGE. Young riders Matt Goss (GreenEDGE) and Richie Porte (Team Sky) will look to build on solid performances at the 2011 event. After spending several years as lead-out man to Mark Cavendish, Mark Renshaw will be looking for his own personal glory as lead sprinter after switching to Dutch team Rabobank for the 2012 UCI Pro Tour season.