Oz fans hail TDF champ Evans
Melbourne - Yellow-clad fans in their thousands thronged Melbourne's city centre on Friday to hail Cadel Evans as Australia's first Tour de France champion took a ceremonial ride into town after returning from Europe.
Three weeks after his champagne-soaked ride to the finish line along the Champs Elysee, the slender 34-year-old once again donned the yellow jersey, grinning as he shook hands with applauding fans.
Evans is the only Australian to win the Tour since the first edition in 1903 and his victory has been feted as one of the country's greatest all-time sporting achievements by local media.
For the steely BMC Team rider, who calls the Swiss Alps town of Stabio home for most of the year and fiercely guards his privacy, the attention has been a happy, if somewhat overwhelming, surprise.
"I can say overwhelmed but that would be understatement for this month at least," Evans told a public reception at Melbourne's Federation Square after his leisurely pedal down St Kilda road.
"It's an honour just to be able to be here today, enjoying being here in yellow. It's just been a great ride and it's not over yet."
A huge television audience at home stayed up until the early hours to Evans in the closing stretches of the Tour as he defied mechanical setbacks before blitzing Luxembourg's Schleck brothers, Andy and Frank, in the penultimate stage time-trial.
"We have been charmed by his humility and now he's home," said Victoria state premier Ted Ballieu, resplendent in a cornflower yellow shirt and tie.
"Night after night as we sat in the dark in the wee, small hours on the edges of our beds, there was a collective raising of our heartbeats.
"We were all well and truly spellbound."
Few countries revere their sports icons like Australia, where captaincy of the test cricket team is dubbed the second-highest office in the land behind the prime minister.
Evans's stunning win has also given Australia a boost during a rare period of scant sporting success with the country's cricket team in the doldrums and Lleyton Hewitt's 2002 Wimbledon title a distant memory.
Debate has sprung up over the best way to honour Evans, with bridges, bike paths and even an annual public holiday being suggested to be named after the rider from the remote farming town of Katherine.
Evans has signed a contract extension with BMC and has been joined in the stable by Norwegian world champion and sprint specialist Thor Hushovd, raising Australian hopes of a successful defence of his yellow jersey next year.