Where Are They Now? Cadel Evans, Australian cycling icon, 2011 TDF winner
He's arguably Australia's greatest-ever cyclist, with wins at the Tour and Road Worlds among many others. Here's what he's up to these days.
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It’s a chaotic afternoon in the Evans household. As Cadel appears in the Zoom call, so too do his two young sons, Aidan, 3, and Blake, 16 months. As the 2011 Tour de France champion gets his headphones connected, his boys shriek and squawk as they duck in and out of shot, climbing under and around their dad’s desk. Blake grabs Cadel’s wallet, his headphones case, has a chomp on his dad’s forearm. This is Cadel’s life now.
Australia’s only Tour de France winner is at his Australian home in Barwon Heads, half an hour south-east of Geelong. As he did during his racing career, the now-45-year-old splits his time between the small Victorian coastal town of some 4,000 residents, and his European base in Stabio, Switzerland. While he normally comes back to Australia every summer, this most recent visit has been a while in the making.
“I went over to Europe just before the whole pandemic started, after the last edition of my race, in 2020, and of course, I got stuck there,” he says. “So I just stayed over there and sort of waited until things opened up again.”
Evans, his Italian partner Stefania, and their two boys won’t be in Australia for all that long – family visa requirements mean there’s a time limit on this visit. All going well, though, they’ll get to spend more time in Australia in the years to come.
“I have an 11-year-old son living in Europe and now that’s the only reason I go back to Europe,” Evans explains. “That’s why I’m based over there. Otherwise, I would possibly prefer to stay here, but that’s going to change in the future.”
When Evans comes back to Australia for the southern summer, he’s usually busy promoting and organising the race bearing his name: the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race. Founded in 2015, this one-day WorldTour event for men and women serves as a legacy event both for Cadel’s stellar career, and for the 2010 Road World Championships in Geelong, which featured a near-identical finishing circuit.
Evans admits that his role in putting on the race is smaller than what his name on the banner might suggest. He was more heavily involved in the earliest stages, pre-2015, conceptualising what the event would be, but nowadays he’s less involved in the day-to-day.
“My role is really more within the promotion of the race and being with the media and sponsors and things,” Evans says. “So it’s probably more in marketing of the race more than hands-on. I have been known to move barriers, but it’s not like I’m stacking them on the back of trucks, driving a forklift with pallets in and out. I’m not involved in that aspect of it. I wouldn’t mind trying to drive the forklift, but maybe at a time when I’m not so busy!”
After six straight editions from 2015 to 2020, the past two editions of Cadel’s Race have been cancelled due to difficulties associated with the COVID pandemic. While frustrated by those cancellations, Evans is philosophical about the whole situation.
“Of course, it’s very annoying, but we’re in a world pandemic,” Evans says. “Unprecedented times. ‘Unprecedented’, is the most used word of the last two years I think! But you just have to roll with it, I think.
“It’s been difficult to communicate why [the event’s been cancelled]. In Australia, I think people are really understanding – especially if you’ve been in lockdown in Melbourne, you’d have too good an understanding! You can’t organise things when you’re closed in your house or wherever you are.
“But my thing has always been … that it’s better to do something properly and do it well and be sure that it’s going to go ahead, than plan everything, do everything … to call it off at the last minute or have a problem with borders or whatever at the last minute would just be to waste people’s time.”
Evans is confident the race will return in 2023, and that it will be “bigger and better” when it does. For the moment he can’t say more; not “until we’ve got everything signed off”.
Working on the Great Ocean Road Race is only one part of Evans’s professional life. He’s also a global ambassador for BMC, the bike brand he rode for the final six years of his career, including to Tour de France success in 2011. He’s been in the role since retiring in early 2015, but the day-to-day has changed a little in recent years.
“Of course, with the pandemic, like for so many people, it’s just slowed down,” he says. “That puts a huge brake on all the activities we were doing there. I’m still involved, but more in the insider things and company meetings and sitting there, listening to the numbers and how it’s going and talking sometimes with the engineers and so on, for future projects. Going forward, coming back to Australia, that’ll probably remain quieter.”
Part of Evans’s role with BMC over the years has been the testing of upcoming bikes. Throughout his career Evans built a reputation for being particularly fastidious with his equipment and his setup – ideal traits for someone tasked with assessing and tweaking a new bike’s ride characteristics.
“Compliance was probably the biggest influence I had through the various iterations, especially with the race bike, the SLR Teammachine which I suppose I can say, has been my little baby because it’s the bike that I started in 2011 in the Tour de France on and I still ride them today,” Evans says. “But through its various generations, if people find it too soft, that’s my fault. If people find it very comfortable and agile and a great accelerating bike, well, that’s my fault as well. There are things that show up well in bike tests and especially the tests that are done in the laboratory, but what’s good on the road?”
Nowadays, Evans is doing less testing for BMC than he once did – a combination of the pandemic and BMC “taking a different avenue”. But his talents aren’t going to waste – on January 1 his year he started working with Partington, an up-and-coming lightweight wheel brand based up the road in Geelong. Evans met company founder Jon Partington a few years back via a shared connection with Deakin University – sponsor of the Cadel’s Race women’s event, and the institution where Partington was based.
Evans’s title with Partington is “product performance advisor” which, he says, is mainly about “the ride quality and feel” of products the brand is working on. “I call myself the ‘in-house crash test dummy’ but that’s probably asking for trouble,” he adds.
It’s been a touch over seven years now since Evans’s final race: the first edition of the event bearing his own name. Evans ended that day, and his career, as the greatest Australian cyclist of the modern era. Among his 34 professional wins on the road: the world championships road race in 2009, Flèche Wallonne in the rainbow jersey in 2010, a legendary, mud-covered stage of the 2010 Giro d’Italia, a bunch of week-long stage races, and of course, the 2011 Tour de France.
In cycling circles, Evans was a big name long before his Tour win. But with that victory, Evans was catapulted into mainstream sporting stardom. What followed was an intense period of increased media attention and expectation – and public appearances – but winning the Tour perhaps wasn’t the massive upheaval one might expect.
“There were more helicopters, and you sat further towards the front of the plane, but you also had more people helping you, more people smoothing things out for you, more carpet being rolled out for you,” Evans recalls. “So it sort of didn’t change so much. But obviously then everywhere I went, everyone knew who I was. We take my kids to the beach now and I wear a hat and sunglasses and people are like ‘Oh!’ People remember. Great!”
Evans doesn’t necessarily hate the attention. He’s more surprised that people even remember who he is, including in places where he wouldn’t expect to be recognised, like Vietnam or Taiwan.
“People are always actually very complimentary and [they say] ‘Congratulations, you had a great career. We love what you did’, or whatever,” Evans says. “Anyone’s happy to be complimented by strangers aren’t they?”
Nowadays, Evans keeps an eye on what’s happening in professional cycling, but he’s by no means a diehard fan.
“I follow it a little bit, but more so the results,” he says. “I don’t sit down all day watching races on TV and things. I never did and I still don’t. I don’t watch much TV, that’s the thing, not because I don’t like watching bike races – I just don’t like spending so many hours not getting much done.
“But I watch the final of the big races. I’ll watch a good chunk of Roubaix or something – I can’t resist – or Worlds, I can’t resist. Actually, my partner Stefania, she watches every stage of the Giro and things. And since we’ve been living together, I actually probably watch more bike races because she’s watching them!”
It’s little surprise to learn that some of Evans’s favourite modern riders are those that, like him, excel in multiple cycling disciplines. Before turning to the road full-time in 2001, Evans had a successful mountain bike career, winning the overall UCI Cross Country World Cup series in both 1998 and 1999, and scoring eight individual World Cup victories.
“I’ve loved watching the rise of [Mathieu] van der Poel and [Wout] van Aert,” Evans says. “I don’t know Van Aert personally, but I love the way he races and the fact that he’s an all-rounder doing cyclocross and road. Same with Tom Pidcock – I’ve never met him personally. I don’t know him. But winning mountain bike, cyclocross, road – it’s awesome.”
Evans also has a soft spot for fellow Grand Tour winner, Primož Roglič.
“I was lucky enough to do a gran fondo a few years ago and meet ‘Rogla’ before he became [a big name] … and got to know him,” Evans recalls. “And I just have to say he was really a super nice guy, really interesting guy. His wife and my Stefania became good friends, and his first child was born just around the same time ours was. We got a friendship going on. I leave him alone now because I think everyone probably wants his time!”
There’s also a certain two-time world champion whose panache impresses Evans.
“Alaphilippe as well,” Evans adds. “Just his love to race and be there. He’s managed to be a very versatile rider, especially when he was there with the yellow jersey in the Tour [in 2019]. He’s got a bit of old-school about him, but he’s doing it in cycling now, which I really, really like.”
While Evans’s professional career is now well behind him, riding bikes definitely isn’t. He still looks as lean as the day he retired, and you get the sense he will continue to ride bikes as long as he’s physically able.
“I ride when I can … I have two small children,” he says. “Once upon a time, when I was a professional obviously, my life – everything – was organised around my riding. Now I slip in a ride when I can.
“Yesterday [or] the day before I went to go for a ride, it was like ‘Well, maybe if I put the baby trailer on my groad bike’ – it’s not really a gravel bike – ‘I can go for a ride if I can be home in time, and ready for baby sleep time. Oh no, I’m not ready, he’s already asleep. OK, I’ll stay here. I won’t ride. If I’m motivated I suppose I could ride the rollers but when the sun’s shining outside I’ll not do that.’
“That’s sort of my riding now. But I probably love it more than ever, riding.”
While Evans will do the occasional sociable ride with friends, or the odd charity ride, mostly he “rides with a purpose”.
“I love riding my bike, but I don’t just go out and ride slowly,” he says. “If I go out I’m like ‘I’m going to do this loop and I’m going to do it in this time.’ Having two small children, it’s like, ‘Well, I’ve got two hours free to ride. I’m going to do as much as I can in that two hours.’
“Because it’s not like I’m riding every day or if I’ve got one hour I’m like, ‘Well, I’m going to make that one hour count.’ So in that case, I’ll be like, ‘What loop can I do? Or what errand can I run while on my ride? Can I make it to that shop, office, document to sign, whatever, in time and make it back again?’ or something.
“While I still look at some [power] numbers, sometimes, I don’t compare them to anything that I used to do. I’m not on Zwift, I use Strava, I’m private on it, but it’s just like racing myself and nothing more.”
Evans says that he doesn’t miss the thrill of elite competition, exactly, but it’s clear that fire hasn’t gone out completely.
“In my career, I really tried to give everything, knowing that one day that the opportunity to be a professional was going to end,” he says. “And I didn’t want to have any regrets when that day came. I did my last race and it was the first edition of the Great Ocean Road Race – second of February 2015 – and I crossed the finish line cramping, I was fifth in the race, and I was just like, ‘OK, let’s start the next chapter.’
“So I don’t miss that competition side of things. Having said that, I am doing a half marathon on Saturday. Sometimes I put a number on, but I signed up for it yesterday [two days before the event]. I should have done some more long runs before I did that. Well, that will be my long run. The first half will be training for the second half, put it that way. So it will be two quarter marathons.
“But sometimes I do some running races or some bike races or something, and if I get in a position, I’m there for the win. Yes, the daggers do sometimes come out. But I keep them hidden away.”
(Evans went on complete his half-marathon trail run in a very respectable hour and a half. As he noted on Instagram: “Not bad on almost zero training right? 🤔”)
Throughout his professional career Evans made a point of steering clear of reading the cycling press. “Often it’s written about you and things are written incorrectly so it makes me a bit angry, so it’s better not to know them,” he explains. Nowadays, though, Evans is much more interested in staying up to date. In fact, our conversation is the result of an email exchange with Evans after we learned he is a CyclingTips reader and paid-up VeloClub member.
Evans enjoys keeping up with the latest racing and tech news, at least partially to stay in the loop for his various industry roles. I’m keen to know what he’s most excited about in the world of cycling at the moment.
“The whole gravel thing for me is probably the thing that excites me the most,” he says. “Road cycling and Strava and Zwift – if you want to be better than yesterday, beat your buddy or whatever, that’s great for that, but not everyone wants to do that. And that’s probably why I’m not on Zwift, because if I go on there everyone wants to beat me, so it’s not really enjoyable – it takes away the enjoyment a bit.
“But gravel, it’s sort of more mellow. It’s a bit between ‘90s mountain biking and road cycling. You can go out in a group, you can enjoy yourself, and no one is looking at the time. And not many people have power meters on their gravel bike, I think. I haven’t seen many.
“And just the way the world’s going with population growth and traffic and unfortunate accidents that we’ve heard so much about over the last few years, [gravel is great] to get away from that traffic … And for me, on a personal level, it’s a lot like where I started mountain biking.
“I just used to ride on the gravel roads out in the outer northern suburbs of Melbourne – Kinglake, Strathewen, that area there. I imported a cyclocross bike from Belgium some years ago to do gravel rides and everyone was like ‘what the hell is this?’ Nobody even knew what it was. There wasn’t even one available, I think, in Australia back then.”
As our conversation meanders from topic to topic over the course of 45 minutes, one thread we return to on several occasions is the impact the pandemic has had on Evans and his various ventures. It forced the cancellation of two editions of his race, it changed his role with BMC, it stopped him moving back to Australia sooner, and more. But there’s been an unexpected benefit to the pandemic too. For the first time in many, many years, Evans has actually been able to slow down a little.
“My whole career, especially the last years, were very intense,” he says. “We’ve got lockdown and closures [now] and all this and it’s like ‘This is a good speed!’ I’ve been trying to slow my life down for 10 years and then this pandemic comes along and it’s like ‘Well, I’m finally going to go and do that vegetable garden I’ve been meaning to do for the last six years.
“I know it’s boring but when you haven’t been able to do it for 20 years it’s kind of ‘Oh, this is nice. Our tomatoes are really good aren’t they?!’”
Eventually, our call ends much the way it started. A child’s shriek from a nearby room snatches Evans’s attention. He soldiers on with the conversation for a moment, trying to keep his train of thought, while also monitoring the chaos that’s building next door. We wrap up the call a moment later. “I’ll follow up with an email,” Evans says with a laugh as he disappears from the screen.
Life might have mellowed a little for Cadel Evans in recent years, but with two young boys to wrangle, you get the sense it will be some time before he slows down entirely.
For more from our conversation with Cadel Evans, be sure to tune into this week’s episode of the CyclingTips Podcast where Evans talks about his transition from mountain biking to road racing, trying to follow Davide Rebellin’s wheel as a neo-pro, and much more.