PARIS - Cadel Evans won the Tour de France on Sunday, becoming the first Australian to capture cycling's most prestigious title.

The 34-year-old Evans celebrated after crossing the finish line on the Champs-Elysee, embracing riders from different teams as the massive crowd on France's most famous thoroughfare cheered wildly.

Later he 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.

Wrapped in an Australian flag, Evans looked close to tears as the Australian national anthem was played. He was joined on the podium by the Schleck brothers of Luxembourg -- Andy, who finished second overall for the third straight year, and Frank.

Evans finished in the main pack at the end of the largely ceremonial final stage. He had virtually secured the title with his ride in the time trial in Grenoble a day earlier.

The 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 went to Edvald Boasson Hagen of Norway, and third to Andre Greipel of Germany.

Victoria's Ryder Hesjedal finished the race 18th overall. It was another strong Tour for the 30-year-old Canadian, who was coming off a breakout performance at the 2010 race when he placed seventh.

Hesjedal paced the peleton for long stretches during this year's race as he secured position for other cyclists on the Garmin-Cervelo team, which finished first in the team standings.

Hesjedal showed his endurance and racing smarts during the 16th stage when he sprung teammate Thor Hushovd to victory in the 162.5-kilometre section. He placed third at Gap while helping Garmin to its fourth stage win to that point.

His own general classification hopes were dashed early in the race when he lost time and was hurt in a crash on Stage 7.

Evans meanwhile is the oldest winner of the Tour since World War II, narrowly eclipsing Gino Bartali of Italy -- who was also 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.

Wearing the leader's yellow jersey, BMC team leader Evans celebrated with a glass of champagne as the riders made their way into Paris on the 95-kilometre ride from the southeastern suburb of Creteil.

After starting the stage on a specially painted yellow bike, Evans switched back to his normal bike. The team said he wanted to finish on the bike that he'd won the race on.

This year's edition of the 108-year-old race featured one of the most exciting finishes in years -- and without a serious doping blight that marred past Tours.

Seven or eight riders were still in competition for the victory during the climbs of the Alps in the final week. Evans looked at one point to have lost his chance, when Andy Schleck rode away from the others on the Galibier pass. But he held his nerve and finished well ahead of Schleck in the time-trial on Saturday to guarantee his victory.

The polka-dot jersey awarded to the best climber went to Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez of Spain, who brought his two children onto the podium with him. The best young rider was Pierre Rolland of France.

Before setting off on Sunday, riders removed their helmets and observed a minute of silence in tribute to the victims of the attacks in Norway.

"When this kind of thing happens, everybody forgets about the sport," said Norwegian rider Thor Hushovd. "It's not even important in comparison.

"It's quite nice that everybody thinks of us. We're a small country ... unfortunately this can happen anywhere."

Hushovd and Boasson Hagen won two stages each in this year's race.