PARIS — The young woman politely asked the young man draped in an Australian flag for a photo, arm in arm with her. He obliged, and politely waited until after she walked away to say: "I probably should have told her I was German."
Among the hundreds of thousands who came to watch the final leg of the Tour de France bicycle race were an untold number of passport-waving Aussies — and then just as many fans and admirers of the winner, Australian Cadel Evans, who had the race stitched up a day earlier based on time trials.
The Australian on Saturday bounded — or leapfrogged, depending which nationality you identify with — over Luxembourg's Schleck brothers, Andy and Frank, to seize the maillot jaune (yellow jersey).
On the second-to-last day of racing Saturday, Evans "clawed back a 57-second deficit to leader Andy Schleck" in a final 42.5 kilometer time trial around the city of Grenoble, the Guardian reported. Going into the final day, Evans led Andy Schleck by 1:34, and Frank Schleck by 2:30.
All Evans had to do was stay upright on the cobblestones of France's most-famous avenue to win. Little wonder he was wishing for the sun to emerge from behind days of heavy rainclouds.
And emerge it did.
And at around 4 p.m. local time, Evans crossed the finish line to become not only the Tour's first winner from Australia, but its first from the southern hemisphere.
A day earlier, Evans had fought back tears — and characteristically failed — as he paid tribute to his late coach Aldo Sassi. A spluttering Evans said it was Sassi, who died last December of brain cancer, who inspired him to his win, the Herald Sun reported.
Like him or loathe him (and there are plenty of people who fall on either side of the equation, with Evans is known among enthusiasts for his prickly nature and seemingly often miserable demeanor), he is for many Australian cycling fans "the answer deep soul-searching that has greeted the unhappy spectacle of Australian teams faltering in the sports that they are best known for," wrote the Guardian's Peter Beaumont.
"It's going to be one of the biggest sporting achievements that an Australian has ever [done]. It's humungous,'' a less restrained Matt White, Australia's national road cycling co-ordinator, told the Sydney Morning Herald.
Someone who does love him — Evans' mum (mom) Helen Cocks — meanwhile, told Australia's Herald Sun newspaper earlier that she'd had just a handful of hours of sleep in the past week.
Cocks told the paper from her Australian home: "I think I’m becoming incredibly superstitious. I know he can win but I didn’t want to think about it... I try not to take these things for granted,” she said.
The authorities in the Australian state of Victoria, meanwhile, weren't nearly so reluctant to test fate, announcing that they planned a parade and perhaps even a statue in honor of the "boy from Barwon Heads."