MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Even in a country which has a tradition of punching above its weight in international competition, Cadel Evans' Tour de France triumph was being toasted as one of Australia's finest sporting achievements well before he completed the largely ceremonial ride to the finish line in Paris.
While politicians at state and federal level were discussing how to commemorate the victory — by erecting a monument, hosting a parade or staging a massive party, among other ideas — the citizens in Barwon Heads outside Melbourne were wearing yellow and pitched the idea of naming a bridge near the town in honor of their favorite son.
Australians stayed up through the night to watch the 34-year-old Evans ride to victory down the Champs-Elysees in Sunday's final stage of cycling's greatest race.
So work started slowly across Australia on Monday. SBS Television recorded its highest audience for a progam in 2011 with its live broadcast of Sunday's finish reaching almost 2.5 million viewers nationally — more than 10 percent of the population — for at least five consecutive minutes.
As an encore, the public broadcaster was to screen a special "Cadel — Le Triomphe" on Monday night.
A photograph of a teary Evans, bordered in yellow, was splashed across the front page of Monday's Sydney Morning Herald newspaper under the headline "Joy and agony of a champion."
The front pages and the sports pages across the country were dedicated to Evans, despite the newspapers going to print before Australia's first ever winner of the Tour de France had formally crossed the finish.
Fairfax newspapers veteran Tour correspondent Rupert Guinness likened Evans' achievement to Australia's win in the 1983 America's Cup — when challenger Australia II, under the flag of the boxing kangaroo, ended 132 years of dominance by American syndicates. Commentators and news polls across the country ranked Evans' effort among the best ever by an Australian athlete.
Victorian Institute of Sport cycling coach Dave Sanders, credited with being among the people who convinced Evans to switch from BMX racing to road racing, said the Tour win was the equivalent of Australia winning the football World Cup.
"I'm making the statement — it's the greatest individual achievement in Australian sporting history and I challenge anybody to put up something against it," he was quoted as saying.
Evans isn't expected back in Australia until October, when he usually returns from Europe for the summer. In the meantime, the road to his mother's house in Arthurs Creek in rural Victoria state has already served as a bulletin board for fans, she reported, with some of the message spray painted on the tarmac included "Crikey Cadel", "Le Tour 2011."
"The markings on the road show that the hype has leapt across the globe and Australians are celebrating the triumph of a local hero," Evans' mother, Helen Cocks, wrote for the Herald Sun newspaper. "It's wonderful that people are so excited by the Tour.
"I think Cadel's pitch for a public holiday today is on the mark. We could call it "Yellow Day."
Cocks said she'd paced the floor of her farmhouse in rural Victoria as her son virtually clinched victory in the penultimate time trial stage on Saturday.
"All the time that I watched him, during those extraordinary long times in front, you knew that he had a chance," she told Melbourne's The Age newspaper. "I've been speechless, breathless. But now there is an enormous relief; he has worked so hard for it, and for once he had some luck."
Federal Sports Minister Mark Arbib said Evans — only the third cyclist from outside of Europe to win the Tour since it began in 1903 — would inspire a new generation of cyclists.
"Cadel Evans' inspirational effort has won him the admiration of all Australians," Arbib said Monday. "He has worked tirelessly to win the most prestigious bike race in the world after twice finishing second. Cadel has had ups and downs but he displayed that never-give-up attitude which has put him at the top of the podium in Paris."
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard was quick to rule out the possibility of a national holiday but told Evans of the impact his victory in the Tour de France would have on his compatriots.
Gillard spoke to Evans by telephone before he got going on the final stage on Sunday and told him that all of the country would be behind him as he rode to the finish line to become the first Australian to win the 3,430-kilometer (2,131.2-mile) race.
"We did share a joke about his impact on the economy of our nation," Gillard said. "I suggested that he wasn't doing much good for national productivity because everyone was coming to work bleary-eyed. He suggested that it'd all be all right in the end because people would feel so full of morale that they'd be cantering into work and working harder."