- Associated Press - Sunday, July 24, 2011

PARIS — After two runner-up finishes, Cadel Evans finally stood on the top of the podium on the Champs-Elysees as champion of cycling’s greatest race.

Wrapped in his national flag and with tears in his eyes, Evans listened as Australia’s anthem played Sunday after he became the first Australian - and oldest rider since World War II - to win the Tour de France.

“I couldn’t be any happier. A few people always believed in me. I always believed in me. And we did it,” the 34-year-old said.

He celebrated after crossing the finish line in the pack on the Champs-Elysees, embracing riders from different teams as the massive crowd on France’s most famous thoroughfare cheered wildly.

Evans bounded up the steps onto the podium, taking deep breaths, then appeared at the top looking calm and waved the bouquet he received in the air.

“Thank you to everyone. It’s really incredible,” he told the crowd.

Evans was joined on the podium by the Schleck brothers of Luxembourg - Andy, who finished second overall for the third straight year, and Frank, who was third. Andy finished 1 minute, 34 seconds behind Evans in the final standings.

It’s been a long wait for Evans, who first showed himself as a challenger for major races in 2002, and finished second in the Tour in 2007 and 2008. But he couldn’t quite make it to the top of the podium until Sunday.

Evans is the oldest winner of the Tour since World War II, narrowly eclipsing Gino Bartali of Italy - who also was 34 but slightly younger - when he won in 1948. The all-time record was set by 36-year-old Firmin Lambot of Belgium - in 1922.

“Cadel was the best of the Tour, and he deserved to win,” said Andy Schleck. “Second isn’t bad, and my brother was on the podium, too. I’ll be back to win this Tour. We have a date for next year.”

Sunday’s 21st and final stage - the most prestigious for the race’s sprinters - was won by Britain’s Mark Cavendish for the third year in a row despite being forced to change his bike on the Champs-Elysees. He also took the green jersey for the overall best sprinter.

Cavendish crossed the line holding out the green jersey he was wearing, and then kissed it. Despite his 20 Tour stage victories, the jersey had eluded him until now.

“Finally!” he said.

Second place in the stage went to Edvald Boasson Hagen of Norway, and third to Andre Greipel of Germany.

This year was a far cry from the Tours of many recent years that were dominated almost from the start by Lance Armstrong or, later, Alberto Contador. This was a race that defied predictions and still was hanging in the balance on the final weekend.

Evans rarely made his presence known, but he was always there. Up every mountain he was never more than one bicycle length behind his rivals. With a small lead that he’d picked up in the early stages of the race and a lot of strength in time-trialing, he knew that he didn’t need to attack in order to win.

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