The importance of being Cadel (January 1999)
In the third issue of RIDE Cycling Review, published in January 1999, we featured a story titled: ‘The importance of being Cadel‘. Back then Cadel Evans was a 22-year-old mountain biker. A lot has happened since but as we’re featuring a story on other young mountain bikers in the next issue… and so we thought it would be fun to revisit what was written about the future Tour de France champion before he’d even ridden a season as a professional road cyclist.
Here is a flashback to January 1999…
Profile of a future champion – from RIDE #03 (January 1999)
As the reigning MTB World Cup champion, Cadel Evans has become one of cycling’s superstars. Just how did he get there, what’s next for him to achieve and how does he plan on doing it?
Catching up with Cadel Evans is sometimes a difficult thing to do. If you’re a cross-country mountain biker, you’ll know just how difficult it is to stay with him on the race course. But even when you’re simply looking for a few moments of this time to do an interview, you notice just how busy the sport keeps the 22-year-old from Plenty in Victoria.
Cadel does move around a lot, but he maintains that 1998 wasn’t too bad thanks largely to a fairly stable base in Switzerland. “In total this year, I only had 34 flights,” he says when I ask him about his frequent flyer program. “That doesn’t seem all that many compared with other years, but the majority of those flights are five-hours or more…” And it still adds up to almost one flight every 10 days.
“I don’t have just one frequent flyer program, but I know that when I want to bring my Mum to a race,” he quips, “it’s not a problem.”
My first post-World Cup-winning reunion with Cadel came at the Australian Cyclist of the Year Awards last November. A crop of blonde hair sat on top of a severe, dark regrowth, but still he looked the utter professional resplendent in his tailed tuxedo.
“Hey Rob, what are you trying to do to my reputation?” he called across the room “…480 watts for 45 minutes!?”
He was referring to RIDE’s story about his World Cup win in the Spring issue. The 480 watts tale was a rumour I’d heard about Cadel’s SRM power-crank reading during the Tour of Tasmania – a road race he won last January – and it was totally wrong. “You should know rumours are just that – rumours.
“I know what 480 watts feels like and I know how long I can hold it for. And all the way up Mt Wellington? No! Not possible.” Then, after some consideration, “There’s still a bit of work to do before I can get to that level.”
Cadel isn’t your average bloke and once he got his gripe off his chest – and I humbly apologised – we chatted about the likelihood of him claiming the Cyclist of the Year Award (“I wouldn’t mind being surprised, but Stuart’s year was exceptional…”) and the chance of doing an at-home-with-Cadel story during his ‘off-season’. He responded with enthusiasm, but cautioned me about his hectic schedule.
“I’m taking a few days off, but I’m back in training early December and if you want to come down you should come training with me,” he said, not laying down any laws, just stating the facts. “And let me tell you now; I won’t take it easy on you just because you’re a journo looking for a story. If you can’t stay with me on the ride, you can find your own way home. It’s back to business by early in the new year and I can’t lose any time waiting around on training rides.”
I never made it down to Plenty for the ride. Instead, we spoke on the phone several times. And each time we speak, I find myself referring to a time several years back when I was lucky enough to ride an early incarnation of the Sydney Olympic MTB circuit with him. That was back in 1995 and Cadel and Paul Rowney were fooling around on one of the descents, practicing nose-wheelies and other MTB skills/games.
With Darren McNamara’s photos in hand, I started the interview by once again talking about this ride. I asked him about his training and if the BMX bike hanging in the corner of the above photos was a part of improving his already near-flawless riding style.
“I’m not big on doing jumps and I’m certainly not anaerobic – and not a sprinter – so to me BMX skills don’t come as quickly as it does for others.
“Last year I felt that I’d slowed down a bit because I didn’t do much mountain bike training. I was spending a lot of time training on the road bike, but this year I tried to do more on the mountain bike. My technique is a bit better and that’s part of the reason I got the BMX bike – both so that I could have fun and also work on my riding technique.”
And with this smallest of hints, I ventured cautiously to the one conversational arena Cadel warned me not to – his road racing.
Once of his last international stopovers before returning for the Australian summer, was the world road championships in the Netherlands. He competed in the ‘Espoirs’ (under-23) time trial – an event in which he had previously finished an impressive third place while in the junior category back in 1995 (behind compatriot Josh Collingwood and Mirko Lauria of Italy). In Valkenburg this year , he managed ninth place.
His road racing is something most are curious about, but when you’re the champion of the World Cup – the mountain bike circuit’s most consistent performer – questions of his ambitions for the road are one of the more tender topics. His response is now short, sharp and perhaps a little too frequently practiced: “I have a contract that runs until the Olympics in Sydney – and that is to race mountain bikes. I’m going to worry about that first. That’s enough to focus on for the time being. I’ll look at my options after that.”
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PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE
I thought his frustration about the road question would continue over to the next topic, the rainbow jersey of world champion. The last worlds was the only time since 1994 in which he hasn’t earned a podium place and I asked if it frustrated him not to find himself on the top rung.
“It does bother me a little bit but I’m sure one day it’ll come and when it does I’ll really appreciate it,” he says clearly also practiced, but lacking the irritation which surrounds the road question. “It’s a little bit annoying, but that’s the way it goes. I’ve got plenty more years left and my time will come.”
“I’d rather have a short and sweet career than one that drags on.
“I think there’s a possibility of the body getting a bit tired after many years of racing. But it’s more a case of how you are mentally and how motivated you can be. It’s a matter of how motivated you are to keep pushing those limits.
“I have my goals for the year of the races I want to win. Whenever I race I want to do as well as I can; but I find I name a few races which I want to do well in and you have to sacrifice some races to do well in others. So sometimes when you get to a race and you’ve done a lot of training with other races in mind, it’s difficult to do well.
“Sometimes races are a come-down when there’s so many people and there’s a huge crowd – that can affect my motivation a little.
“For me the motivation comes from winning,” he continues, indicating that his career will continue for many years. “Racing is about being able to overcome challenges. It’s about beating the odds, to achieve a goal. For me that’s the biggest motivator. Sometimes it’s a relief, ‘Ah, finally I’ve done it’.”
And what about the enormous crowds which flock to the World Cup races? Do they play a part in maintaining motivation? “It’s funny you should ask that. I did a local race a couple of days ago and it’s funny when people (on the course) say to you ‘keep going’. I’m glad I’m getting encouragement and I’m grateful for it, but when you’re leading you’re not going to stop, are you?
“The first time I raced in America I was amazed at the things they shout… Some of the comments they give you are so over the top. Like when you’re feeling really, really bad and someone’ll shout ‘Oh, you’re looking great out there…’. The big one call over in the States is, ‘You’re stomping Aussie!’ – or actually, ‘You’re stomping Ossie!’
“It’s great to have everyone being positive; it’s certainly a lot better than when you’re having a good race and someone says, ‘what’s up with you? Why aren’t you winning?’
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MAINTAINING A BALANCE
The life which Cadel has carved out for himself may involve copious amounts of travel, a lot of racing – both off and on the road – and with that comes a lot of pressure. Still he copes with this stress with total composure. His overseas sojourns are broken up nicely with decent stints at his Swiss base near Neuchatel. “It’s very quiet, very relaxed and other than training it’s probably not a very stimulating place for some people. But it’s great to go there and relax.”
In so many ways, Cadel is the quintessential pro bike rider – enormous ability, strong focus, good support and , of course, decent money – but in mountain bike terms doesn’t provide that rebel attitude which seems indicative of the off-road aspect of cycling.
“I don’t try and be rebellious in any way. I see no reason to go out of my way to piss people off. But if I feel strongly about anything I’ll speak my mind or do what I think is correct regardless of what other people think, so in some ways a rebellious act might be described like that.
His professionalism has naturally spilled over into what he does to ensure his fitness is achieved in the right manner for his discipline. In the gym his focus is on strength, but no necessarily for the purpose of bulking up.
“Most of the exercises I do are specific to my sport. It’s not like I can say ‘I bench this weight and I squat this’. I do squats but they are dead lifts with dumb-bells. I train so that I don’t compensate to one side – to my stronger side. I concentrate on being of equal strength.
“To be a cyclist you have to be careful about strength and balances. Obviously if you’ve got a stronger leg, you’re going to favour that leg and that affects your hips, your back and all sorts of injuries can result from that.
“Most of my strength work is based not only around increasing strength, but also as an injury deterrent or focusing on maintaining a balance.”
Out of the gym and off the bike, Cadel’s closing words on his gym session summarise just what helps him to continue pushing the limits of competitive mountain bike racing. And you can rest assured knowing that it’ll take something monumental to distract Cadel from maintaining his focus up until September 2000 when the Olympics arrive in Sydney.
Cadel is focused in pursuit of his goals. He’s talented enough to be able to achieve these goals. He’s already had his share of bad luck to know how to cope with disappointment. And there are enough exciting options for him to choose from once he’s finished with his contractual obligations at the end of the year 2000. At the end of the day, however, there are enough things going on in his life that true satisfaction comes from knowing what he wants and setting things in place to achieve those things. It’s about being talented, honest and earnest – or in this case, it’s about the importance of being Cadel.
– By Rob Arnold (1999)
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