98th Tour de France – An Australian 1st (part 02)
RIDE Cycling Review’s coverage of the 2011 Tour de France (continued from part 01)…
– We need it in the modern world.
– Human beings perform better under stress/pressure.
– The modern world ‘cocoons’ people – we need stress and pressure to grow stronger (mentally and physically)
“We were expecting the one-two-three attack from CSC,” said Redant about that day to L’Alpe d’Huez back in 2008. His reference relates to the three from the rival team who could taunt Evans. Fränk Schleck wore the yellow jersey. He had an eight-second advantage over Cadel who was ranked third overall (one second behind Bernhard Kohl after 68 and a half hours and 16 stages of racing) and Carlos Sastre was ranked fourth at 49 seconds. Andy Schleck was the other candidate who was capable of upsetting the rhythm of the Australian with an attack but the young Luxembourger was contesting his first Tour and was well down the rankings in 14th place, over nine minute behind his brother.
“I thought Fränk was going to go,” continued Redant with his appraisal of the day that hesitation cost Evans the victory, “but then Sastre went and with him we had set ourselves a time limit. The attack came almost immediately… I thought, ‘Carlos can do this for a while but he can’t ride that pace for 13km’,” said Redant of how they opted to react to the attack. Evans nodded along to Redant’s appraisal. The directeur sportif told the rider he should “try to get on the right tempo and do your own thing – don’t look at the others, ignore them.”
The idea was to limit the losses and then give it everything he had in the final five kilometres. “I waited until four,” explained Evans. “I was scared about the wind.”
“Yes,” responded Redant, “but you were also scared of the guys who were with you, but you shouldn’t have worried about them. You should have just done your own time trial.”
“They tried,” said Evans. “Menchov went but he couldn’t even get to the front to do a turn.”
“That’s why I told you, ‘You have to go now.’”
“Looking back at it, six months later, starting my full effort with five kilometres to go would have been better. Maybe…” said Evans in a discussion in Paris on the eve of the presentation of the route for the 2009 Tour de France.
“You should have done it,” Redant reminded Evans. “We saw what happened when you did ride without hesitation. You limited your losses. If you went hard one kilometre earlier you would have lost only 30 seconds to Sastre – and that would not have been the same drama.”
“But if I started riding a kilometre earlier,” replied Evans, “maybe I would have died a kilometre earlier.”
“That’s possible,” concluded Redant, “but that’s the risk I would have taken. Already at seven kilometres to go, I said, ‘Just ride so they don’t attack with five to go’. But at five to go I said, ‘You must do your time trial now. But the problem is, I don’t know how Cadel is. I can just imagine. I said it five or six times: ‘You have to go, you have to go. You have to go. You have to go… You have to go!’”
“Yeah. You stayed calm on the radio but I hesitated.”
‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’, it does keep people honest.
The better you get, the more critics you have, and unfortunately, the more unfriendly (thick skinned) you become because of it. The more closed and contrasting you become. The unfriendly ones ruin it for everyone.
The risk of a similar situation emerged on the Queen Stage of the 2011 race. At the base of the Col du Galibier we saw one of the most remarkable scenes in years – when it appeared as though title hunters were prepared to sacrifice their chance of glory in favour of forcing Evans to lead the pursuit of Andy Schleck. For a while Alberto Contador shared the pacesetting with the leader of the BMC team but there was a key moment when the defending Tour champion pulled to the left of the road and stopped contributing to the chase. This opened a gap with Evans at the front and Pierre Rolland – working, as he always did, for Thomas Voeckler – eventually responded.
There was a hint of interest from Liquigas-Cannondale as Sylvester Szmyd moved forward but he never went ahead of Evans. The Australian was forced to take matters into his own hands. It was reminiscent of the scene on Alpe d’Huez in 2008 but this time it was a peloton of 27 riders, including workers like Geraint Thomas (doing his bit for Rigoberto Uran), Rolland and Szmyd. Three years earlier the group left to chase Sastre was composed only of GC specialists, team leaders – every rider who made the top 10 overall of that edition.
On the approach to the Galibier in 2011, it was a far larger group. Of the teams represented in the chasing peloton, BMC, was one that did not have more than one rider. Voeckler had Rolland along for support, Contador had Navarro, Basso had Szmyd, Sanchez had Izagirre, Hesjedal had Danielson (or was it vice versa?), Peraud had Dupont, Casar had Jeannesson… but only Evans seemed to recognise that the hope of winning the Tour de France was riding away.
Andy Schleck danced ahead. He’d bolted ahead a long time before. On the Col d’Izoard, he attacked. It was so early in the race that there was no reaction whatsoever. He was allowed to go. Before that stage, Andy was 1:18 behind Evans. Even if he finished ahead – which we know he would subsequently do – the Australian could afford to have a deficit. He can time trial well. Andy can’t. Still, the difference had grown to four and a half minutes by the time it was becoming apparent that the two-time runner-up was riding away from them all. It was windy and there was every reason to fear a collapse before reaching the finish line. This is what caused the hesitation but if they wanted to win, they could wait no longer.
Evans decided to take matters into his own hands. To hell with them, if they want to follow let’s just see if they can!
A bike change for Samuel Sanchez combined with a passing photographer’s motorcycle – and surely encouragement over the two-way radio from Lelangue – was the catalyst for one of the most phenomenal displays of riding in years. Although Andy had taken the initiative and was the first GC rider prepared to attack his rivals on a mountain prior to the final ascent in the stage of the Tour since Floyd Landis’ (in)famous surge on the col des Saissies in stage 17 of the 2006 Tour, his winning effort was not the most amazing ride of stage 18 this year. Yes, he won. He took time on his rivals. He dared to take on the highest climbs, the wind, the treacherous descents. His was an act of bravado forced upon him because he’d suffered some losses in the opening stanza. Andy was amazing, there’s no question about it. He will be remembered as the winner of the highest stage finish in the history of the Tour. And it was an effort that ultimately netted him the yellow jersey. That would be confirmed at Alpe d’Huez in stage 19 but his time in the lead of the 98th Tour de France lasted just one day.
It is consistency that wins the title. This year, there was no one even close to being as regular as Cadel Evans. His report card features high distinctions every step of the way and the standing on GC day by day confirms this. Although 2008 was impressive, consider this sequence: second, third, third, second, second, second, second, second, third, third, third, third, third, third, third, second, second, fourth, third, first… first!
He’s lamented the lack of luck before but this time while others faltered, Evans rode the perfect race. He had a team committed to his cause, bikes that were built exactly to his specification, a manager who believed in him, the form of his life, the perfect lead-up, a minimum of distractions, a route that was perfect for both suspense and his strengths. This was the Tour for him to win. And now that he’s done it, he’s free of the burden of doubt. He always knew that he could achieve something no other Australian had done but until it was done it remained a challenge that irked him. It consumed him.
When he failed he got angry. And he used that anger to achieve a year in the rainbow jersey. That was the season that Lelangue helped him build. A new level of trust emerged and a successful partnership was born in every way.
In 2010 he had to contest the Giro d’Italia for a team that was still considered an upstart. It had a few stars on the roster but it was not yet registered in the top league. With a day in the lead of both the Giro and the Tour de France – courtesy of Evans, who swapped his rainbow stripes for pink and yellow jerseys in May and July, respectively – the squad earned enough points to qualify for the WorldTour. In turn, this reduced the need for Evans to race as much and allowed him to focus solely – finally – on the Tour de France and that race alone.
There were other races for him in 2011 and he would win what were little more than preparation events for him: Tirreno-Adriatico, and the Tour de Romandie – both part of cycling’s top tier. He would finish second (again, for a fourth time) in the Critérium du Dauphiné in June and he would appear at the Tour de France as one of the pre-race favourites.
Others had the pressure of expectation while the only burden Evans endured was the belief of a nation and the hope he had put on himself to prove what he knew he was capable of doing.
It was Russell Mockridge who set the standard for Australian cycling over 50 years ago. At the Helsinki Olympic Games in 1952 he became the only cyclist in history to win two gold medals in one day. Upon achieving this remarkable precedent he fired off a telegram to his wife in Australia. “Did.”
A beautiful summation of years of work. This are the three of the eight letters that I used to sum up my emotions to Cadel on the day of his coup in Grenoble. He knew about the telegram from our time working on Close To Flying, and the temptation to repeat it was too much. I sent a quick text before beginning the long drive to Paris: “Did. Bravo!”
Isn’t that what we’d all tell him?
Everyone has an opinion on certain aspects of Tours gone by. Floyd Landis is perceived as either a hero or villain by those who have followed his (many) stories – either the long trail of denials or the subsequent liberating confessions – yet no one will ever truly understand what transpired during his time as a professional cyclist. His victory and his loss made success in the Tour de France even harder. It’s because of his positive test that a cynical world is even more doubtful when it comes to admiration of a “champion”. Did they “win”? Or did they win? In other words: did they sin or were they clean?
Evans has been a leader and is now a winner. His first taste of stardom as a road cyclist coincided with a bizarre image of a rider primed for victory faltering in such a dramatic manner that, despite a phenomenal collapse, drew admiration. His loss of the Giro d’Italia in 2002 is remembered as a time when a clean rider couldn’t maintain the demands of a dirty world.
This heralded an awakening. From cycling commentators it drew praise. For the rider involved, it was one of many lessons in how to manage his resources more effectively. You cannot climb a mountain with empty legs. His only real mistake nine years ago when he wore the maglia rosa as leader of the Giro – the first Australian to do so – was that he failed to eat enough for his body to manage the challenge of the Passo Coe. It’s on that climb that he faltered but he became a man who commanded respect. This added to his motivation but reduced his respect for others, for this was a time when he knew he was good but the critics would strike with increasing regularity and demoralise him as he began a new quest.
Success in the Tour de France, he said this year, is something he dreamed of since seeing Miguel Indurain “tear apart the peloton in 1991”. But it was only after he met Aldo Sassi and became, however briefly, part of the mythical Mapei team that he really considered that as a realistic goal. From the moment the Italian coach had conducted his first examination of Evans, it was clear that a clean champion could emerge from the quagmire that cycling had become after a succession of generations that were besotted with doping. At first it was accepted, a part of the sport’s culture. Then it slowly became more sophisticated and, ultimately, more clandestine. Athletes outran the tests. They remained ahead in both the application of the methods and also the willingness to experiment with un-trialled potions.
There was an apparent belief that doping would always exist in cycling. That it was a futile concept to even try to fight it. But that attitude is changing. Evans is part of the shift.
Here we are considering the implications of Cadel’s victory. The fact is, he’s had an enormous influence. You can’t deny it, his success features everywhere. He’s on the front page of newspapers, it takes up whole sections and some people even wonder if there’s a strange obsession with this new cult figure. He’s created communities of supporters. He’s become a bigger than ever anticipated personality.
“It is what it is.”
That’s a common line for a lot of people – pessimists or optimists repeat these five words and it helps them cope.
Matt Lloyd told me the same thing 10 days after Cadel was presented with the Tour de France’s maillot jaune. He’s one of the guys – one of the crusaders, one of the people who have really gone out of their way to help Cadel and there are a lot of others who have done that. “It is what it is.”
And what we’ve got is an amazing situation. It’s exactly what we want it to be. We’ve seen cycling accepted by a broader community than ever before because of a sporting triumph. It has brought people together. Let’s recognise that, rejoice in it and understand the implications. Another friend who knows Cadel offered some comments in the intervening days between the end of the Tour and the completion of this issue of RIDE. Like many of us, he realised that the concept of hope exists.
On the banks of the Seine three words are painted on a wall to remind us of a concept that exists in us all. “Keep your hope.” One loss need not mean defeat. For the eventual victory will be so much more sweet.
With the sand on the faux beach of Paris Plage only a river away from that scene, we saw something exceptional unfold. An Australian triumphed in the Tour de France. It’s a beautiful conundrum: how can you not admire Cadel? The influence he’s had since he started riding has been remarkable.
A lot of people have talent that hasn’t been nurtured. A lot of people have been nurtured but haven’t got talent. There are a lot of people who haven’t had either – talent or support – but you can’t pick on them and say they didn’t give their all as well.
There’s the question of heroes and if sporting stars can achieve that status. We all ask that too. What’s it mean to you? Is Cadel a hero? Some people doubt it. Personally, I doubt the concept of a sports star achieving hero status. Look at us all, we can all achieve amazing things. We raise children, we write magazines, we work in hospitals, we manage funds, we mine resources, we feed, we clean, we teach, we create, we massage legs, we work as domestiques, we ride a bike… We do our jobs. We all do things that help make the world go around. Aren’t we all heroes for getting through life unscathed? Shouldn’t that be the end result of the inspiration that’s tendered here?
What we’ve seen is a man who wanted something and he’s gone and got it. And you’ve got to be happy for him for doing just that. It’s outstanding what he has achieved. No one ignores it and I don’t think anyone – even the “non-believer” – is going to believe they saw anything but a great race this July.
There are a lot more believers than Cadel would have use believe. There’s an armada of people behind him: those who must be considered from the past, the present, and the future. We’re all a part of it now. This is The Bigger Picture. There’s a big bright future for Australian cycling. There’s every reason to “keep your hope” and that’s why it will never fade.
We recognise the sins of the past and we realise that there’s hope for the future and that’s what we’ve got to take home from this no matter what else there is. And there are a lot of other things hanging on this: stories that remain untold and a tale that’s still being written. Cadel Evans was 34 years and 160 days old when he won the Tour de France – the fifth oldest champion in the race’s long history – but he’s found his wings. He’s been, true to the cliché, close to flying. But now he’s done exactly what he’s always wanted to achieve. We can reel out all the motivational phrases he used along the way but, as his osteopath David Bombeke knows perhaps more than anyone, he’s been “working on a dream” and that’s now a reality.
If he looks back at the ride of the 2011 Tour de France then he could be forgiven for thinking it’s the Hermosa Creek Trail all over again. That was his first taste of what professional cycling could offer him and he loved it. “It allowed me to be free. It was exploration and exhilaration.”
His name is that of an explorer, Captain Francis Cadell, who set off on a pioneering trajectory up the mighty Murray River in 1853 and made it all the way from Mannum to Echuca. According to his mother, however, the name – with one “l” – comes from the name of his godfather, Cadel Lee Hunt. His father, meanwhile, says he just got bored looking at the Women’s Weekly “book of bloody baby names” and settled on the one after reaching the suggestions starting with “C”.
Whatever telling you opt to accept, in Australia and beyond “Cadel” has become a one word take on achieving something special. There’s a lot more to come from this man yet but before he wins another race, he can now reflect on a job well done.
I’m glad to have been part of it and proud to have known him for a long time and seen the progression from protégé to champion. His stories have been told often over the years, in the pages of this magazine and in the book I wrote with him that was published in November 2009. Things have been different between us since then. During this most recent Tour I observed him and, like others who watched the race, I saw a rider become a champion. It is a victory that has conjured many emotions but ultimately it’s an objective achieved.
Neil Stephens told me that in the days that followed the race this July he had many discussions with people of influence who are now interested in the sport of cycling. He is part of the GreenEdge professional team project – a team of the future backed by Gerry Ryan, an entrepreneur with a passion for cycling and a bank account that’s large enough for him to sink significant funds into something that is bound to set other sporting precedents. Ryan has won the Melbourne Cup, as a co-owner of a French horse named Americain. He is the reason why Stephens spoke with people who have become enamoured by the Tour, cycling, and a sport that had – until recently – only been seen as a second-tier activity. Now it’s mainstream and people want to talk about it. They want to understand it. They want to believe in it and discover the stories that have been written and are yet to emerge.
Cadel Evans already had a significant legacy but he doesn’t stop creating more stories and offering inspiration. The GreenEdge is also going to have an influence on how Australian cycling is perceived and Stephens opted to limit his appraisal to one sentence for fear of becoming bogged down in detail and losing the interest of his audience in late-July/early-August when sponsors were queuing up to talk to Ryan about sharing the cost – and the prestige – of taking cycling to a new level in the country they call home. These people wanted to know more about Cadel. What is he like, honestly? The answer is complex but Stephens stated a response that sums it up well: “He is a really good bike rider.”
That’s not it for Australian cycling and this is a good thing. Cadel is a renaissance man. He’s certainly a rider who rode a race that we could all enjoy. It brought people together. What I saw this July was remarkable. I remember covering my first Tour de France in 1997; if I saw an Australian flag I knew who was waving it, there was a small collective who did believe. But now there are thousands of Evans’ compatriots on hand to cheer him and the other riders on. Cycling is interesting. That’s why we watch. It’s why we follow the race in record numbers. It’s why SBS was able to generate huge ratings figures. The rider has had mixed thoughts on the professionalism of people on Tour over the years, he’s been scathing in his appraisal on some, and has used physical force to shun others away from his personal space, but in 2011 he used some charm.
Thanks to the clever management of the BMC team and its PR representative Georges Lüchinger, the relationship with the media was a positive one. He portrayed himself as a rider in control of his destiny, someone who is grateful for the efforts of his team-mates, respectful of the strengths of his rivals, impressed with the enthusiasm of the fans. He was willing to give just enough time to relay his thoughts and analysis, but also allow himself the appropriate period of rest and recuperation. By not taking the yellow jersey until the eve of the final stage, he limited his obligations with the media and wasted no energy having to be repetitious in the ‘mix zone’ after each stage.
In the first week, he wore two prize jerseys. On day two he had the green jersey, for the winner of stage one Philippe Gilbert, though he led both the general and points classifications, could not wear both yellow and green. In stage three Evans was the first Australian to wear the Tour’s polka-dot jersey. But he was actually second in the that classification… until his victory in stage four – on the Mûr de Bretagne, half a wheel ahead of Alberto Contador. This meant he was also the first Aussie to legitimately lead the competition for the best climber.
These are the reasons he had to attend the podium protocol early in the 2011 Tour but he wouldn’t have to do so again until stage 19 when he was second in the time trial that started and finished in Grenoble. And the reason for his appearance that day was to collect the maillot jaune. This time, it was clear, it was his to keep. He would ride to Paris, as he dreamed, as the leader of the Tour de France.
It was a fantastic triumph, one that we’ll all savour. Not as sycophants, nor as cynics or anything more than someone admiring what we’ve seen. That’s not just the winner, it’s the whole process – the evolution of the race.
At the start there’s so much anticipation. You really want to know who the winner is but you don’t want to know until the end. That’s what’s so captivating about a good Tour de France. It’s so enthralling. It brings us in. It makes us believe that it’s bigger than just a bike race. The race is amazing, it’s a part of sporting history and now an Australian is the winner.
An Australian… first in the Tour de France.
It’s spelled it out on the cover (of RIDE #53) and repeated here. I’m thrilled by the result. How can you be anything but appreciative of it? But it’s the whole race, from beginning to end, that matters. The early hype can get dull and analysis lasts forever, but the actual competition is what’s so fun about the Tour. It’s seeing everyone do what they do and putting their effort into context.
This is an unprecedented success, a victory for cycling in Australia achieved in France ahead of every rival – some whose hopes were ended with injury and were forced to withdraw. The race could have been even better had it not been for stupid incidents that cost the likes of Janez Brajkovic, Bradley Wiggins, Chris Horner, Alexandre Vinokourov, Jurgen van den Broeck, and Andreas Klöden their places in the peloton.
Accidents happen, crashes occur, mechanical failures hinder the results of some, tiny little traces of clenbuterol were digested – in one way or another – and are somehow detected. Asterisks appear, uncertainty emerges… but the scenes at the finish didn’t really reflect that this is a sport that has been besieged by doping. There were a multitude of questions that were asked about the topic for that’s how we understand coverage of cycling must be. No one is ignoring those facts. No one is being a sycophant because an Australian is the winner and suggesting it’s a “clean” win simply as it was achieved by one of “ours”. What was apparent, however, is that this edition of the race was more honest than some in the past.
We watched, saw performances, enjoying all aspects of a bike race – not just reflecting on the one positive doping control that caused but a minor hiccup to an exciting contest.
Alexandr Kolobnev didn’t finish the race but his test result was the only blight on an otherwise amazing competition. One that, when we consider it and analyse it, had a fantastic start, followed by a few quiet days in the battle for GC honours but in the mountains it all began again. With the preliminaries out of the way it was time to climb. In the Pyrenees, as expected, the GC guys came to the front. They marked each other closely and perhaps we will remember the first mountain range as one that didn’t quite provide the spectacle that it could have, but the second one delivered in every possible way.
What we saw on the roads to the col du Galibier and L’Alpe d’Huez in stages 18 and 19 was exceptional. It was better than the day to Morzine five years earlier when maybe testosterone helped Floyd Landis do something incredible – something extraordinary, a word that in this instance carries negative implications rather than positive ones.
They used to call the five-time champion Miguel Indurain “extraterrestrial”; it was considered a compliment then but 20 years on from the Spaniard’s initial success – the one that inspired a young man who was riding his mountain bike around the neighbourhood and exploring the world on two wheels, not knowing what lay ahead. It’s been an amazing journey. It took 86 hours 12 minutes and 22 seconds for Cadel Evans to win the Tour de France, and for him to finish the course one minute and 34 seconds ahead of Andy Schleck.
Numbers mean a lot in cycling and first in the Tour de France is something that everyone remembers.