In the Australian media, no member of the Australian contingent of cyclists in the Tour de France peloton gets quite the same amount of attention as former winner of the maillot jaune, Cadel Evans.
Cadel Evans’s Tour de France campaign is closely followed in Australia by serious fans of cycling, and those who for just three weeks of the year, enjoy the spectacle of the most famous of the three Grand Tours.
We watch his every move, his place on the leaders board and his time gaps with the same enthusiasm we pour over our favourite football team every weekend.
It’s interesting really, when you consider that there are riders from forty-four countries that are eligible to ride this year’s Tour de France and Australia comes in sixth on the list with thirty-five. How many of these eligible cyclists can you name?
There are eleven Australians are competing in the 100th Edition of the Tour de France, naturally with the majority competing for Orica GreenEdge, but the most well known of these, is of course Cadel Evans.
So, why is it Cadel that we focus on so ferociously?
Apart from the obvious, that being that he is a former winner of the Tour de France, Cadel Evans is an interesting choice for our ‘symbol’ of cycling.
He’s a fascinating character from a media perspective. He is clearly a shy and private man who treads warily with the media and yet when you mention the Tour de France to most people, Cadel Evans is the first name to pop into the average Aussie sports punters mind.
To be a sporting household name in this country you need to either play Aussie Rules or Rugby, depending on which part of the country you hail from, or cricket. There are exceptions of course, and these are mainly during the Olympics when we collectively acknowledge other sporting endeavours.
Most often than not though, we have few sports stars outside of the traditional team sports we followed so passionately. Too often competitors from other sports only gain fame through being infamous, outlandish or down right brats.
Cadel Evans is a different character all together.
In any other sport, an Australian who didn’t open up to the media would be mauled and torn down by the disgruntled beast that hounds it until it gets its headline.
But not Cadel.
And I think the answer is quite simple.
Cadel Evans epitomizes, not just hard work, but he backs it up with demonstrations of a relentless, ‘I will never give up’ attitude. He has an attitude that says, ‘I will sooner die and ride over hot splintering glass, even taking a fall over said burning surface, than give in.’
In a perverse way, you could say, that he has in some respects benefitted from the drug addled peloton he joined in 2001. Evans has spent a fair chunk of his pro cycling career, battling against those whose performances have been illegitimate.
It is tempting to pose the question of how many tours Evans could have won in a cleaner peloton. It is possible to suggest that those years of racing in a very uneven playing field have shaped the hard work and determination that categorizes Evans.
That hard work and gift for bike riding is also evident in his early mountain biking career. Let’s not forget that this tough competitor has two mountain bike World Cups to his name.
Evans also posses the mental toughness required in this difficult sport where within a split second a rider’s fortune can turn around and anything can happen.
Who can forget stage 19 of the 2011 Tour, when Contador launches one of many attacks and Cadel suffers a mechanical. He’s left on the side of the road, his team car is nowhere to be seen, only the neutral service vehicle and what does Cadel do?
Throw a tantrum?
Chuck in the towel?
No. He’s all calm.
He gets back on only to suffer further bike problems. In the meantime, Andy Schleck is on Contador’s wheel and they are riding off into the sunset. The Tour is looking like it’s going to slip away from Evans again, when he was, oh so close.
Would you have been as calm, on the outside anyway?
I would have crumbled and cried at seeing my dream slip away but not Evans.
The stage was a long way from over.
The race was a long way from over.
For my mind, this is the stage Evans won the 2011 Tour.
Apart from being a tough, focused and driven athlete, Evans also possess one of the most admirable characteristics I can think of, even if at times it can feel like a major character flaw, and that is, he wears his heart on his sleeve.
When things are going wrong, he doesn’t shirk from it. He doesn’t give some well drilled PR line. After Saturday’s stage 8, he simply stated that his GC is over.
When things are going well, he acknowledges it but doesn’t over inflate or boast.
Thankfully, he does not suffer from the over inflated ego of those who give themselves ridiculous nicknames, like ‘The Missile’, before they’ve even entered the competition.
Cadel Evans also benefits from Australia’s maturing as a nation as we move away from the Tall Poppy Syndrome. No longer do we feel the desire to cut down those who achieve. Then again, he does participate in a sport, which even the most casual of observers can comprehend as not being for the soft.
With a good chunk of this year’s peloton riding around with broken bones, and Evans himself, has ridden on with broken bones in the past, it is impossible to not have an enormous amount of respect for this sport and for those who participate in it.
Evans is entering the last phase of his career as a contender for the GC and I do not mean this as a provocation. He is 36 and his chances of winning another Grand Tour are diminishing, although he is not yet a spent force, with this year’s Giro d’Italia resoundingly proving that.
The mountains will prove tough. Stage eight demonstrated that, but if there is one thing we can be certain of, it is that Cadel Evans will fight all the way to Paris.
As the 100th edition of the Tour de France continues into its second week, we will continue to watch the fortunes of our man, Cadel Evans and continue to ride the highs and lows with him as we collectively will him over the stages that are to come.
Cadel Evans represents sporting achievement and he has brought the great sport of cycling into the lives of many, who until recently may not have been aware of its existence.
He won’t win this year’s Tour de France but he will still keep us up, well after our bedtimes as we follow the spectacle that is Le Grande Boucle.
First published 8th July, 2013 on The Roar.com.au