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By Anthony Tan
After life as one of the world’s best mountain bikers, wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, he went into his first grand tour at age 25 and almost ended up a winner – had it not been for one last mountain and the collaborative efforts of a bunch of Italians.
In the eight years since then, Cadel Evans, who’ll be 33 on February 14, has learned a lot, suffered plenty and on fewer occasions than he would have liked, experienced the euphoria of victory.
Now, resplendent rainbow stripes coil around his torso, which is larger than average for a man his size. Inside, his lung capacity and power-to-weight ratio matches — or, depending on whom you ask, slightly exceeds — that of seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong.
But can this squeaky-voiced, occasionally eccentric figure, talented beyond doubt, win the Giro d’Italia or Tour de France before it’s too late? He thinks so.
Armed with the honor of being Australia’s first world road champion, a new, improved team and what appears to be a more relaxed outlook on life and its inevitable foibles, Evans says 2010 is the year to find out if he can be good — no, make that great – in both. VeloNews scored a one-on-one chat at the Tour Down under with the Aussie man most likely to create grand-tour history.
VeloNews: In recent years, you’ve opted out of the Tour Down Under to properly prepare for the Tour de France and the Ardennes classics. Will racing the Tour Down Under this year therefore change your preparation leading up to the Tour, providing your team is invited?
Cadel Evans: Of course; it’s something we’ve certainly considered a lot and planned a lot. 2010 for me is (about) the Tour of Italy and the Tour de France, and (this race schedule) therefore brings my preparation a lot further forward in the season. For that reason, to have intensity — i.e., racing earlier in the year — isn’t such a problem, and actually helps you get ready for races like the Tour of Italy – and it’s why we’re here at the Tour Down Under.
VN: Has the historic significance of your world championship victory sunk in yet?
CE: Umm … I don’t know. I’ve kind of concentrated on the job at hand, which is a bit of a trap for cyclists. You sometimes don’t realize what you’ve done because you’re too busy trying to achieve more. I suppose here, when they announce the first ever world champion from Australia — on the road at least — it’s significant, yes.
VN: You’ve re-lived that race and especially the final lap so many times, so I’m not going to ask you again — but I am going to ask you this: On the morning of last year’s world road championship, September 27, 2009, when you looked at yourself in the mirror, what did you see?
CE: My wife (Chiara Passerini) hung up a rainbow jersey up on the mirror frame of the bedroom wall (the night before), actually. So that was standing there and I woke up in the morning and it was still there, so I thought, “It must be true.”
VN: Last season was filled with probably more downs than ups for you. What were two or three of the most frustrating moments?
CE: My year began to take a bit of a downward spiral when it was announced I was doing the Giro. Very clearly in my head I wasn’t doing it, and I had already spoken to the press about not doing it — that was back in December 2008. Yeah … things just weren’t coming together from there onwards. I was training well, or I was training as well as I could, I was healthy, and in that regard it was going well. But things weren’t coming well together, and it really set a stumbling block right from the start. And it took a long time to get back on my feet, and I suppose Dauphiné was getting back on my feet — it took until then to get back into the swing of things correctly.
VN: Through adversity there’s triumph, so what were some of the key things you took out of those poorer moments?
CE: Be a little bit more selfish, and look after myself. I wouldn’t apply it to life itself — but when there are people around you, trying to take advantage of you or whatever, it’s just the way you have to be. And it’s really not a humane level, it’s not a human level, it’s not the right way, but in some situations you just have to believe in yourself and do what you think is right, and do it for yourself.
VN: What are you hoping to get out of this week at the Tour Down Under — is it race miles, some form, or is it simply a chance to show yourself in front of a largely Australian crowd?
CE: A little bit of all of those. To thank the Australian public for all the support they’ve given me over the years, to have the honor to wear the rainbow jersey in Australia — because it’s the only time it’s going to happen for me — it’s for that as well. And also it fits in well with the new team, BMC — first race with the team, first time I’ve even been with the riders since joining the team, getting to know the team, just getting a good unity going; working together as a team is really important here. And from a training aspect, it’s that last little bit of intensity for the first part of my training year.
VN: Surely, after winning worlds at Mendrisio, a win in the Ardennes classics must be at the top of your agenda?
CE: You know, I am a stage-race rider: that’s my priority, that’s what my job has been the last five, six, seven years, and every now and then, I can come through in a one-day race. But the worlds was a little bit different because it was the one time I could really gear the best part of my year around a one-day race. Whereas when I’m going for the Giro or the Tour, to go for the Ardennes classics 110 percent is a bit of a compromise to the Tour, which is what my year is judged upon, success at the Tour. So if I had the opportunity to win one that’d be fantastic — but they don’t get handed to you on a plate, those wins there, so whether it happens or not the next few years, I don’t know.
VN: Your team has just received wild-card status by the UCI. BMC is definitely going to the Giro, but do you think whether your team will be invited to the Tour de France is predicated on your performance at the Giro, or will ASO decide earlier than that, in your opinion?
CE: I don’t know … the indications seem to be we’ll have some idea before the Giro, but my involvement with the team and the team as a whole, I think what we’re really working on is (proving to ASO) we shouldn’t be left out of the Tour. That’s what my focus is on — if we are, we are, and so maybe we don’t deserve a spot at the Tour. But as a team, if we do our work correctly and we deserve a spot in the Tour, we’ll get it.
VN: Just so I’m clear, you’ll be racing to win the Giro, then — it’s nothing to do with preparing for the Tour?
CE: No. After last year, where I did a good Vuelta after the Tour … previously, I had a bit of preconceived doubt (about riding two grand tours in one season), but last year, I proved to people that matter to me — me and my coach — that we could do it. I think I’m one rider who’s capable of doing two good grand tours in one year, and 2010’s the year to find out.
VN: You must have mixed emotions about riding the Giro after what transpired in 2002. You came so close to winning, but then had a spectacular. …
VN: Well, yes.
CE: You could say that. The Giro in 2002, it was my first year on the road full time; I was racing pretty much as a neo-professional, and had the leader’s jersey in the last week of the Giro. It was … not many neo-professionals do that in their first three-week tour. And the main thing that led to my collapse was I was crossing over from another sport; I was changing my physique, but I also had to work so hard in the off-season from being a mountain biker to being a road rider. We’re talking top-level world championships, World Cup mountain bike to three-week tours; it’s a pretty big, extreme step to take. And I had to work so hard over October, November and December to change my physiology — which you can’t do in three months anyway, but you can make some change. … That probably also cost me a lot in that Giro. That (change of training) served me all the races up to that Giro, and all the way up to that last climb … (I got) pretty close (to winning).
VN: Now you have a stronger team on paper, the team time trial (Stage 4) and the (individual) time trial to the Plan de Corones (Stage 16). That must work in your favor, right?
CE: Yeah, I’m certainly looking forward to doing a good team time trial at the Giro. We’re quite focused on that, and of course, that’s going to be an important step at the Giro, so we’re going to do everything we can to be as good as we can for the team time trial. And Plan de Corones, I know a lot of riders don’t like these dramatic, alternative stages — but being an ex-mountain biker, I find it kind of interesting.
VN: If you were to end your career with a grand-tour victory other than the Tour de France, would you walk away satisfied?
CE: I don’t know about that.
VN: How long did it take you to feel at ease with your decision to join BMC? Did it happen as soon as you signed the contract — or has it just happened now?
CE: I think after the first meeting with John Lelangue.
VN: What’s the biggest thing you believe BMC can provide you with that your previous team could not?
VN: I understand you’ve recently changed your opinion on the expected outcome of this year’s world road championships, after driving around with the course designer and former professional, John Trevorrow. What do you envisage happening, and what type of rider do you believe is likely to prevail?
CE: Since they first laid out the course the structure’s been changed, with the start in Melbourne. And that even more so favors the … I won’t say pure sprinter, but a fast guy who can get over the hill. So I’m thinking maybe a (Daniele) Bennati, or a (Oscar) Freire. Really, it’d be a (Paolo) Bettini course but of course Bettini’s not racing anymore. So I think it’s going to be one of those guys, and I’m certainly hoping from the Australian team it’s going to be an (Stuart) O’Grady or an Allan Davis, and I’ll probably be there in the team trying to help those guys.
Editor’s note: On the penultimate stage of the Tour Down Under, after instigating what looked like a race-winning break on the climb of Old Willunga Hill, Evans was caught within sight of the finish line. He finished the tour sixth overall, 17 seconds down on eventual winner André Greipel.