The news on Friday that Cadel Evans was officially retiring from cycling after the Australian cycling season was not completely unexpected.
Even so, cycling fans, Australian or not, avid fans or casual fans of the Tour de France, joined together in a chorus of love and respect for the man who has done much to transform Australia’s connection to a sport usually played out on the other side of the world.
Cadel Evans has that rare ability and that rare honour of being one of the few people in the public eye who can make you truly proud to be Australian.
In sporting terms, he shares this honour with the likes of Rod Laver, Sir Donald Bradman and Cathy Freeman. These are athletes who inspired their generations as well as the generations that follow.
For some, Evans has appeared aloof and difficult to read. Not a natural media performer, he is a man who never hides his emotions. He wears his heart on his sleeve and this is surely one of his greatest assets. In many ways this is his most endearing quality. It’s also a quality that generates immense respect for him.
There are no smoke and mirrors, just the honesty of a man who has represented himself and his country to the highest degree in a sport that has too often let itself down.
Casting our minds way back to late in the twentieth century, Cadel Evans rose to prominence in the sport of mountain biking.
He was a four time National Champion, two time World Champion and Olympian before making the transition to the road.
It’s this transition that made him a household name in Australia.
His Grand Tour career got off to a healthy start with a 14th place in his first attempt at the Giro d’Italia in 2002 but it will be for the Tour de France that he will be most remembered by Australians.
Evans finished 8th in his first attempt at the world’s most famous road race in 2005.
His fourth place in 2006 and his back to back runner up placings in 2007 and 2008 cemented him as Australia’s number one road cyclists.
It was also these results that ensured his Australian fans were on hand to will him over the line in 2011 after two disastrous campaigns in 2009 and 2010.
There is no doubt that his 2011 victory at the Tour de France was the pinnacle of not just his career, but of Australian cycling.
Evans’s win in 2011 was the culmination of years of grinding away to win the world’s most famous bike race.
Australian cycling fans and fans of the Tour de France didn’t just jump on the Cadel bandwagon in 2011. We had spent the previous seven years sitting up until the wee small hours, cheering him on.
Many Australians who tuned into the Tour de France coverage may have known little about the intricacies and tactics of three week stage races, but one thing they did know, was that they were tuning in, sacrificing sleep to watch one of our greatest athletes conquer a sport dominated by Europeans.
Evans is a member of an elite group of cyclists who have worn the leader’s jersey in all three Grand Tours as well as one of the few to have stood on the podium in all three of these events.
His palmares is too long to go into detail here, but his results are nothing short of spectacular.
Evans has been nothing short of a trailblazer in Australian cycling.
To be a World Champion in two disciplines of cycling, the first Australian to win the Tour de France and the first Australian to be world road race champion are just a small part of what will be a wide reaching legacy.
He has introduced thousands of people to a sport that has never held the sway of cricket or the various football codes in Australia.
The sport of cycling is growing in Australia and whilst there are many hard working Australians contributing to this, it is Evans who is the most well known.
He has brought a whole new audience to Australia’s National Road Championship, the Tour Down Under and even to national broadcaster SBS.
Surely, Evans’s success in Europe has contributed to the increased coverage of road cycling on SBS as well as to their flagship regular coverage the Tour de France.
Evans has also brought immeasurable joy to sports fans in this country. He has taught us that perseverance and self belief, that fighting on when all seems against you are the most valuable qualities one can possess.
His honesty has been refreshing and inspiring and like the greats before him, such as Laver, Bradman and Freeman he will be an inspiration to as yet unborn sporting stars.
At this year’s Australian Open tennis, the great Rafael Nadal stood in awe of Rod Laver and asked politely, “May I have a picture with you, Mr. Laver”.
There is no doubt that many years into the future, a young champion will ask something similar of Mr. Evans.
That is how far reaching his legacy will be.
Thank you for the memories and chapeau, Cadel Evans.
This article was originally published on The Roar