Cadel Evans – Renaissance Man (RIDE #35, 2007)

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The first issue of RIDE Cycling Review in 2007 was all about cycling’s ‘Renaissance Men’. The coverline asked: “What’s required to reinvigorate racing after a season of uncertainty?” A lot has happened since and some questions posed in that edition have been answered, including another line on the cover: “Cadel Evans,” it read, “is this Australia’s first Tour de France winner?” Turns out, he is. Five years ago, RIDE‘s editor Rob Arnold spent a week at the Australian base of Cadel Evans in Barwon Heads, Victoria. Here’s a ‘Flashback’ to 2007 which reminds us that Evans was – and still is – “training to win”.

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Clear focus on Le Tour

He won the Australian Cyclist of the Year award after finishing fifth in his second attempt at the Tour de France but Cadel Evans is not the type to reflect on what he’s done in the past. Instead he considers everything a lesson for future challenges. Two top 10 finishes in the Tour make the 30-year-old a candidate for success in 2007.

By Rob Arnold

It was Boxing Day, the sausages were almost cooked & Cadel Evans had just poured himself another glass of red wine. Cycling was the topic of conversation which is not too often the case when Evans is in a relaxed setting. Sure, the 2006 Australian Cyclist of the Year knows a thing or two about the sport he’s practised as a professional since his teenage years. He just doesn’t choose to speak about it all the time. But the man who built the rider’s house in Barwon Heads a little over a year ago has been converted.

The builder resembles a rugby player but he’s passionate about his cycling. He bought a bike after becoming friends with Cadel during the construction period and now rides as often as he can. “I did 42km today,” said Nathan proudly. “I’m never sure if I’m going to be too tired to make it home.”

Cycling is all new to him despite his connection to the rider who finished fifth in the 2006 Tour de France and now lives in the same town… well, sort of.

Evans has been a vagabond for half his life and he gets to spend a little less than three months a year in Barwon Heads. The rest of the time he’s either at his European base in Stabio – a village in Switzerland just two kilometres north of the border with Italy – or living out of a suitcase in hotel rooms.

Of course, for a large percentage of his time he’s riding. The training program sent to him a month in advance by his advisor, Aldo Sassi, maps out his schedule on a day-by-day basis. It outlines in intricate detail the required elements that should be fulfilled: how many hours, what percentage should be spent at various heart rate thresholds, specific cadences, the length of time he should be climbing, and so on.

(PHOTO: Tom Putt)

(PHOTO: Tom Putt)

The regimen begins in November and, if all goes according to plan, reaches a crescendo in July.

Cadel is a quirky character who falls into a relatively rare category of rider: he’s a “GC guy”. This means that no matter what the conditions are like, Sassi’s routine is followed to the letter. The notes for 25 December and 1 January offered him a brief reprieve: “Boun Natale! Riposo,” read the program. And then, “Boun Nuovo Anno! Riposo.

He could avoid the bike and have a rest. But Cadel didn’t. His family was coming around for lunch on Boxing Day so he did “four hours in the rain on Christmas day to make sure I didn’t miss out on anything”. On his next scheduled day off, he spent “five hours riding in the hills near mum’s place”.

On the day of the barbecue at Nathan’s place, however, he still squeezed in more than 42km in that perpetually windy part of the world before the family visit just to make sure he turned the legs over. And he still made it home.

The host wanted to know if Cadel had ever really reached his limit. He offered a cheshire grin and looked at me to see if I had the answer. With a nod, Evans suggested that I tell the story from stage 17 of the 2002 Giro d’Italia. The abridged version goes thus: it was Evans’ first three-week race, he began as a domestique but became the leader of Mapei in his first season with the team, he came second in the mountainous 13th stage, was third in the time trial the next day and, with his seventh place on stage 16, claimed the maglia rosa… and it appeared that he would win the Italian Grand Tour.

zinio-promo-ride-35-2-smWith seven kilometres to go in the 222km stage of his only day in the lead of general classification, Cadel blew to bits. He dropped from first to 14th.

Those familiar with Evans’ story know the scene, and Nathan was enthralled from the first word. Cadel sensed his enthusiasm and offered his take on the event that he’s often reminded of but would rather forget. “We looked at my data at the end of the Giro and, the truth is, I had reached my limit on the second-last climb,” he explained.

“It just wasn’t until the final mountain that my body shut down. I don’t remember much about the last climb but was told about it afterwards. The strangest thing about that day in 2002 was what happened at the finish. I’d struggled to get to the line and my soigneur was waiting for me… but I rode straight past him. He had to run after me for a couple of hundred metres. I was on autopilot. All I knew was that I had to keep on pedalling.

“I was completely empty, physically and mentally there was nothing left in the tank. People love to speculate about what I did wrong; how I’d forgotten to eat and didn’t take care of myself properly… I was young but not stupid.”

The final climb was 22km long and rose from an altitude of 180m to over 1,600m. It came near the end of a tumultuous Giro and, until that last section, Evans had covered the course in a cumulative time that was faster than anyone else in the race. “The real reason my body shut down,” he concluded, “was that I was doing something that was far from ordinary.”

Of course he realises that things can go wrong. Accidents have hindered him before, like when he broke his collarbone three times in one season and couldn’t put his natural ability to use, but that’s history. There’s no need to lament a missed opportunity, only work to be done to ensure that he is at his optimum level for the Grand Départ in London on 7 July.

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His job may dictate that he lead a cosmopolitan lifestyle but Cadel is still very much a fair dinkum Aussie. He loves his beer and is also partial to a drop of red once in a while. Everything in moderation though, as he explained with an analogy of what happened in the Giro five years ago. “When you reach your limit, you don’t know it’s going to happen. There’s a self belief in what you’re doing,” Cadel told us.

“It’s like when you drink too much – it starts out well and you think you can have another beer. And another, and so on. Before realising it, you’ve had too much and you’re drunk. I just thought I could keep on riding before I reached that final mountain. My body told me ‘no!’ but my mind said ‘I have to!’ – I just kept on going… and going and going.”

The goal is to find a good balance of training, a safe environment, a better understanding of his limits and ability, an infrastructure to support him, and a happy homelife. All these things have been ticked off Cadel’s list. The time is right to do what he and many others know he’s capable of.

During my brief stay in the sleepy town that was used as the setting for the popular Sea Change television series, we cranked up the barbie in the evening but ate salads for lunch. I ventured out for a few rides and had Evans as my tour guide around the main attractions of Victoria’s Bellarine Peninsula.

He’s proud to live near Bells Beach even if he doesn’t get to surf as often as he’d like. He owns two boards: a 5’9” thruster in the garage that gets occasional use, and a malibu that hangs in the study as a reminder of the “slow days that lie ahead”.

The two of us stopped at the top of the steps for quite some time and admired the break while watching some local grommets catch a few waves and reflected on the “old days up on the north coast”. We both spent part of our youth in or, in his case, near Coffs Harbour. It’s a place with little cycling heritage and whenever he visits his father, who lives in Upper Corindi, relaxation is the only objective.

He was last there in November when he, his wife Chiara and her parents Luisa and Aldo hired a camper for a week and “went for a drive”. It was the first time Mr and Mrs Passerini had visited Australia and it offered Cadel a smooth transition from the Italian way of life that he’s adopted.

(PHOTO: Tom Putt)

(PHOTO: Tom Putt)

Evans is a pedant. Everything is done with purpose and his diet reflects his pragmatic manner. It’s strict although not ridiculous – there are moments when nothing beats chips or a snag from the barbie – but when he’s training the consumption of what’s required doesn’t seem like a chore.

The daily routine in the period just before new year was simple: wake, stretch, eat breakfast, have a coffee, suit up and get on the bike. We went riding together a couple of times; missed the bunch on the morning of our Bells Beach visit and joined the local crew at Ocean Grove another day. After the tourist ride, we got home and he suggested I jump in the pool.

“It’s cold,” he said, stating the obvious as I pulled off my long leg warmers and riding jacket, “but it’s great for recovery. I’m going to stretch, have a swim and then have some lunch.”

Chiara had prepared it all and we sat down to eat together. It was a simple recipe reflecting her heritage as much as his: grated carrots, a few cherry tomatoes sliced up, lettuce, pumpkin seeds, a drop or 20 of balsamic vinegar and lashings of olive oil. “Can never have too much,” said Cadel during one pouring session.

Dinner, for those interested, was on the barbecue – snags and rissoles one night, (much nicer) salmon the next – and salad with plenty of oil… as always.

Afternoons were for sleeping or shopping or strolling to the cafe with visitors. It’s much like a typical day of any professional. People wake, do their job and come home… the variance for Cadel comes from the length of time Sassi believes is appropriate to be “at work”.

Then comes the other phase: waiting for the European day to begin to send emails, make calls and arrange the numerous sundry details that are part of a professional athlete’s life. It’s busier than some careers, more glamorous than others but, to Cadel, it’s just what he does. Why should anyone care?

After years of helping Evans with his site cadel.com.au, I know people care. He has acquired a legion of fans that spans the globe; entries in his guestbook are from every continent and words of encouragement are far more common than criticism. This is thanks to the way Cadel conducts himself with the public, as well as what he does for a job.

The home Nathan built has a contemporary design with a large open-plan living area below three bedrooms. A pilates machine sits in the study and the garage has a modest collection of three bikes – the Ridley Noah that he trains on each day, a partially built Pinarello which he bought after the first of his two seasons with T-Mobile, and a BMX from Cannondale that he uses “to race down to the shop, do wheelies on and remind myself of how it all started”.

He is paid to ride a bike but Cadel has a penchant for cars. His 1966 Mustang Coupe “looks like it’s just been driven out of the showroom,” he says proudly, “but there are hidden extras like the CD and MP3 players under the dashboard.” It’s a car for cruising but other outings are done in a “very loud V8 Holden SSZ ute”. That’s his Australian fleet.

(PHOTO: Tom Putt)

(PHOTO: Tom Putt)

In Switzerland he, Chiara and Molly use the “family wagon, a V6 Audi TT” as the run-around while his latest indulgence is a Lotus Elise sportscar. “Every now and then,” he explained, “you’ve got to treat yourself to something.”

Cadel has grown accustomed to being in the limelight and when he’s recognised in the street he takes compliments from strangers in his stride. His first true taste of international acclaim came on the last day of July 1994 and it forever altered the presentation protocol for World Cup mountain bike races.

Aged 17, Cadel was fifth in cross-country of the first round of the series to be contested in Australia. The promoters in Cairns were so impressed with the ‘local’ rider’s performance that they decided to extend the podium so that fifth could also be recognised. Had that been the case at the Tour, he would have been on the Parisian podium on 23 July 2006.

He’s a patient man and he’s confident that an amendment need not be made for him to salute the crowds on the Champs-Elysées. You could well see him on the podium this year even if you may not see a lot of his face during the coverage. “I hide a lot,” he said about his strategy. “I’m usually on my own for longer than any other GC rider so I have to look after myself. And I’m there to ride the best race I can, not just try and get my face on television.

“There is a photo of a stage from the last week of my first Tour which is a classic example up how I rode the final climb as part of a group. There was Basso followed by Armstrong and myself; Ullrich had just been dropped. I thought, ‘Oh, I might make it in the coverage’.

“On the cover of L’Equipe the next day was a photo of the group. There it was: Basso with Armstrong on his wheel and a fan waving a big American flag… just under it you could see the tip of a Northwave shoe poking out. That was all you could see of me.” Cadel might hide from the wind when he’s racing and miss out on the front page portraits but he doesn’t hide his intentions. He’s training to win.

By Rob Arnold (rob@ridemedia.com.au)

(PHOTO: Tom Putt)

(PHOTO: Tom Putt)

(RIDE Media has published a quarterly magazine about cycling since 1998. Issue #56 is due out in May 2012. We also produce the Australian edition of the Official Tour de France Guide, the 2012 edition will be on sale in mid-June and feature a full preview of the 99th Tour de France. Cadel Evans is the defending champion. To pre-order your 2012 Tour Guide, click here.)

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