“The most important thing is to get all your energy on to the road and on to the results board”

Cadel Evans

In winning this year’s Tour de France, Cadel Evans secured the finest victory of his career and became the first Australian – and one of the oldest men ever – to take the title. He talks to Global about the vital importance of teamwork and the efforts being made to clean up the sport of professional cycling. 

In what turned out to be one of the most thrilling and aggressive races for over a decade, Cadel Evans became the first Australian to win the Tour de France in July this year. Having come close to victory on two previous occasions – he was runner-up in both the 2007 and 2008 editions of the Tour – he knew what it was like to stand on the podium in Paris after 21 gruelling days in the saddle. But to be wearing the leader’s yellow jersey (maillot jaune) on the Champs Elysées was a new experience: “Surreal would be the adjective,” Evans says. “Quite incredible and quite unbelievable… It was something I had distantly dreamed of for nearly 20 years.” 

Few pundits were backing him to win. In 2009 and 2010, a lack of form and a fractured wrist respectively saw Evans fall well down in the overall standings – he only managed to secure top 30 finishes. But Evans never lost faith in his own abilities: “Before this year’s Tour, having had those results [in 2007 and 2008], I always quietly believed in myself. It was just a matter of avoiding some bad luck.”

This year, Evans seemed more willing to attack and better able to follow the bursts of speed of the pure climbers in the high mountain passes. He puts this down to better preparation as well as “the faith and trust” that his team placed in him. He also acknowledges the efforts of those teammates – George Hincapie, Marcus Burghardt, Steve Morabito and Brent Bookwalter – who helped ensure that he was well positioned in the crucial moments of the final decisive stages. “The support of a team is very important in cycling,” Evans explains. “Every little detail adds up to the victory, and while I get to say I am the Tour de France winner, it is the combined effort of about 50 people – after the [other] riders you have the mechanics, the team management, the training staff and the people who care for us, the soigneurs.” 

But the final effort that secured the win was all Evans’s. Going into the penultimate day of racing, he was 57 seconds down on the Tour leader, the young Luxembourg rider Andy Schleck. As has been customary in recent years, the stage was an individual time trial against the clock – a discipline that suited Evans better than his main rival. Evans had been in a similar position before in 2007 and 2008 when he entered the final time trial needing to make up time on his opponent to take the maillot jaune. He failed both times. But heading into the starting gate, Evans admits that this time he was “reasonably confident” that he could take back the seconds he required. “In contrast to 2007 and 2008, it was only a one-minute deficit as opposed to a two-minute one,” he says. “And I arrived much fresher into the final days of the 2011 Tour than I had done in past years, particularly in 2008 when I arrived injured – that was a really difficult one to contest and also to accept losing was difficult.” 

What goes through his mind before and during a race as important as this one? “Many things,” he laughs. “But the most important thing is just to concentrate and, particularly in a time trial, get all your energy on to the road and on to the results board.” Which is exactly what he did, beating Schleck by two and half minutes. 

And so, Evans joined a select group of men who have won the Tour de France. But for some, the cachet of winning the race has been diminished by the doping scandals that have plagued professional cycling since the 1998 Festina affair, which uncovered a systematic regime of doping on a truly unimaginable scale. Since then, many cyclists have been issued with drug bans and more than one previous winner of the Tour has been stripped of the title – a decision is currently pending on whether Alberto Contador, winner of the Tour in 2007, 2009 and 2010, will join this sorry band. 

The sport’s regulatory body, the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale), has brought in a wide variety of measures – including extensive drug testing and the introduction of biological passports – to try to weed out the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Evans believes that these measures are working: “The sport, after the Festina scandal, deserved some criticism and some closer analysis, but I feel that the steps taken to clean up [cycling] have been effective.” He continues, “In terms of the use of doping products within the peloton [i.e. professional cyclists], the drug tests are getting better and better every year, and cycling is far more extensively tested than any other sport in the world. So, in that regard, as far as science can [allow], cycling is doing everything that is possible to ensure that the riders are clean.” He wishes that the media would pay as much attention to the progress in this area as they do to the negative aspects of doping. 

At 34 years of age, Evans is the oldest post-war winner of the Tour de France. But multi-stage road racing is not generally the preserve of boys. Like seven-times winner of the Tour, Lance Armstrong, most professional cyclists don’t reach their peak until their late 20s – a degree of physical strength and endurance, as well as emotional maturity, is required to excel in this demanding discipline. Even so, in cycling terms, Evans is getting on. But he still believes he can retain his title in 2012. “In terms of physiology and fitness, I still hold the same level, my age hasn’t shown any signs of this [his fitness] declining,” he says. “I am kind of proud of the fact that I am the oldest Tour winner for quite some time and it’s not something I am going to let bother me in terms of my preparation and confidence leading up to future Tours de France.” 

Interview by Elissa Jobson

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Cadel Evans is the Winner of the Tour de France, 2011


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