Viewers of last night’s 60 Minutes puff piece on the Australians competing in the Tour de France learned a few things. Liz Hayes had a nice time in France. Gee, the bikes go really fast. And my, what pretty European cities our riders live in.
Oh, and they learned that Cadel Evans, currently sitting third in the overall standings and with a real chance of becoming the first Aussie to win the event, was born in Katherine in the Northern Territory and grew up on an Aboriginal community.
The solitude from a young age shaped his character, he told Liz Hayes. He had no brothers and sisters, meaning a bike was the ideal playmate. But dig a little deeper and you will discover that he took up cycling in earnest after seeing shots on the television of the Lemond and Indurain era of bike racing, introduced by Max Walker on Wide World of Sports a few months after the event had been run and won.
So where has this Australian rider come from, and how can an Australian, whose home country really doesn’t care much for competitive cycling, be so close to winning the sport’s biggest prize?
Evan moved to the Dandenongs in Victoria in his adolescence and his mother brought him up in a region ideal for mountain biking, a sport which had a rush of interest in the 1990s, but still attracts the more bohemian sportsman. Although there are teams in the sport, racing is basically done as an individual.
But Evans excelled. He was part of the AIS from a young age and rode the junior road world championships, but his career stayed on a mountain bike. He rode professionally for the prestigious Volvo Cannondale mountain bike squad, and he won two World Cups. He had targeted the Sydney Olympics as his final major goal on his mountain bike before he making the switch to road racing. He failed to win at Sydney and in the next few years he rode both disciplines, before crossing over to the road full time in 2002 with the premier road team Mapei.
But there is another reason Cadel is a chance to win the Tour this year: he was blessed with superior genetics.
Evans broke records in laboratory testing at the AIS. At one stage he had the highest VO2max recorded at the Canberra facility. VO2max is a key determinant for aerobic prowess, and designates the amount of oxygen one’s body can absorb and use in one minute. That’s what the boffins called it, but it was apparent to his riding mates on his fast bunch training rides through the Dandenongs that he was … different. They called him “The Lung”.
We know that he has penchant for fast cars, thanks to Liz Hayes’ tireless research into her subject. But he is not the stereotypical sportsmen. His Italian wife is a classical pianist, and he has a cerebral side to him that is not appreciated in the sporting milieu, leading to suspicions from authorities and the media that he’s arrogant.
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Yet teammates never mention a supercilious persona, and it may be just a clash of expectations; pity the sportsman who differs from the cultural norm.
Besides, he’s now given himself a chance of winning arguably the world’s toughest sporting event, a feat that takes a certain arrogance to imagine, let alone achieve.