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Jul 24, 2011

Evans, Australia's ground-breaking legend

Cadel Evans' achievements on the Tour de France are set to ensure his status as a barrier-breaking legend of Australian sport.

Barring some unprecedented calamity on the traditionally processional final stage to the Champs Elysees, Evans was poised to become the first Australian to win cycling's greatest race early on Monday AEST after producing the ride of his life in the penultimate stage time trial to claim the yellow jersey.

The 34-year-old had already achieved an all-time great sporting career, making history two years ago when he became the first Australian to win the men's professional road race world title.

But the jewel missing from his crown was a Grand Tour title - the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia or Vuelta a Espana. No Australian had won one.

And the Tour de France is far and way the biggest - a true final frontier for Australian cycling.

Evans's effort caps a period of extraordinary growth for the sport in this country, an era that started 30 years ago when Phil Anderson became the first Australian to wear the Tour's yellow jersey.

The enormity of what Evans stood to achieve cannot be understated.

A fair comparison is Australia II winning the 1983 America's Cup.

Back then, Prime Minister Bob Hawke famously declared after the victory "any boss who sacks a worker for not turning up today is a bum".

Now the growing legions of Australian cycling fans are craving the same dispensation from Julia Gillard after three solid weeks of sleep deprivation.

"If it doesn't hurt the economy, that's fine by me," said self-effacing Evans when the suggestion was put to him after his time trial heroics in Gronble on Saturday.

"Thanks Julia.

"I won't enter into any more political discussions there because it's been a nice day so far."

Evans is a complex and intriguing character who enjoys his privacy. He will not relish the added attention that comes with this outstanding achievement.

But he has done the hard yards and knows what is coming.

Whatever his quirks, people can relate to Evans the competitor. His drawn face shows his suffering when he races.

Indeed, there have never been whispers about his bona fides as a competitor.

In a sport that has suffered enormously from doping scandals, he is seen as a cleanskin.

Evans' triumph also begs the question - what else remains on the Australian sport bucket list?

There's an Australian golfer in the Masters green jacket after so much heartache at Augusta National, or the Socceroos winning the World Cup.

Evans winning the Tour de France is that big.

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