Cadel Evans achieved sporting immortality on the cobblestones of Paris earlier this morning when he finally stood on the winner’s podium as the conqueror of not only the world’s biggest annual sporting event; but just as importantly himself.
Having been twice Tour de France runner-up and serial victim of bad luck, poor past team support and importantly battling his own demons less easily overcome, Evans triumph now puts the seal on his status as one of our most illustrious sporting legends.
However, like so many singularly determined competitor’s who refuse to compromise in their quest to become a champion, Cadel’s never suffered fools gladly and this particularly applied in his approach to the media in past years. As his star had risen after joining Davitamon-Lotto’s squad as their TDF general classification main hope from 2005, the pressures on him from all quarters intensified.
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Even before his switch from mountain biking after the 2000 Sydney Olympics, the Australian cycling scene was abuzz with his potential in the road pro ranks. While attending a gala cycling dinner in January 2000 at Crown Casino I garnered how socially awkward or ill at ease he appeared at such a back-slapping ceremony. One of his mentor’s told me at the time he was something of a loner among the cycling fraternity and fellow riders considered him “eccentric”. In what way I asked? “Well for a start he likes to wear a cravat.”
Over the following years as I kept track of his career and watched befuddled as injuries and team politics saw his Tour de France dreams stalled until he joined Lotto in 2005, you knew his great promise and the expectations that came with it were also acting as a kind of chain holding him back. Although unloved by his fellow pros for his prickly personality, which hardly made him an island in the sport, there was also lack of respect for his racing mentality of forsaking attack, held to be a primary weapon in all great champions.
But that all changed with his breakthrough UCI world road race championship win in Mendrisio, Switzerland in 2009, where he attacked towards the finish and suddenly it was as if the racer in him had been transformed. And certainly in moving to BMC Racing for the past two years after quitting Silence-Lotto, in his quest for La Grande Boucle, he’s been a man seemingly transformed both on and off the bike?
Just how much he had gotten offside with the media can be seen from Richard Moore writing in the Observer on July 27, 2008, after Evans failed to overhaul race winner Carlos Sastre in the penultimate time trial when he fell an agonising 58 seconds short after starting 1 minute 34 seconds in arrears, although few paid much heed to his injured knee.
Yes he had entered that year’s race as favourite when Alberto Contador’s Astana team was not invited because of an ongoing Spanish doping drama (Operacion Puerto) but he hadn’t done himself any favours when Lance Armstrong’s former bodyguard was deployed supposedly to reduce the post-race pressure on him. But then as Hammond wrote, it did the opposite.
“With his bodyguard in tow, Evans generated more attention and fuss than all the other favourites put together, and it sat uncomfortably with him. On at least three occasions he reacted violently to what he regarded as excessive attention, snapping at reporters, head-butting a television camera and, most bizarrely, reacting with rage when a reporter got too close to his pet dog, delivered by his wife, Chiara, to the stage finish at Prato Nevoso. ‘Step on my dog and I’ll cut your head off!’ screamed Evans, pointing an accusatory finger.”
Now his former idol Phil Anderson, the first Australian to ever lead the Tour de France back in 1981, has dared to suggest that with the tour monkey off his back, it might remove a chip on his shoulder and long-held belief he’s been something of a victim.
Anderson told today’s Daily Telegraph: “I don’t want to take anything away from what he has done, but he has always had the mindset that he has been hard done by. There’s always been that chip on his shoulder. Hopefully this will calm him down and satisfy him and it helps his development.”
Evans would be the first to suggest that a lot of excess baggage has now been removed from his world, but also no cause for thinking he remains unappreciated in his homeland after such a massive outpouring of recognition for what he has accomplished
As for already pushing the envelope at 34 to be the oldest winner since 1923, a year older next year doesn’t make it any easier at all, but as he has already shown in learning from past near misses; wiser and smarter and better climbing support where he was left to do too much in those finals final days when most needed; it may be a year too far, but then most experts said that of 2011.