It’s Cadel Evans’ birthday today and what’s better on Valentine’s Day than some Cuddles? First up, Evans’ outstanding Tour de France win last year, in one of the most clever use of graphics around. Enjoy!
I have to say that I’ve not always been a Cadel Evans fan. The turning point, however, was when he won the rainbow jersey in Mendrisio in 2009. Before that, I found him very frustrating in that he never seemed to attack. He always seemed to be a reactive rider, not someone who would take the race by the scruff of its neck and ride to win.
His entire 2008 Tour de France campaign seemed to bear that out. He was hands-down favourite to win as Alberto Contador and Astana were not invited. Cadel came to the race with some thick-necked bodyguards and had a few snafus with journalists – the phrases “Don’t touch me!” and “I’ll cut your head off” mixed with head-butting a cameraman just made him look like he was on the edge. He lost the race on Alpe d’Huez when Carlos Sastre of CSC took off, leaving it to his teammates, Frank (in yellow) and Andy Schleck to keep Cadel occupied. Cadel got well and truly Schlecked that day, as they played cat-and-mouse with him on every switchback, keeping him from pulling back any time that Sastre was accumulating. The next day Sastre rode the time trial of his life and Cadel went to Paris in second.
But my opinion of Cuddles – and I reckon a lot of other people’s opinions – changed at the World Championships in Mendrisio in 2009.
With an incredibly strong Fabian Cancellara being man-marked to within an inch of his life, Evans finally did what I never thought he would: he attacked and rode like he meant to win. And he did. As much as I wanted Cancellara to win – and God, did I want Cancellara to win – Evans’ performance was one to respect. And his year in the rainbow jersey did him – and the jersey – proud. It was as if he was a new rider. His Giro in 2010 was an epic one. He may have only ended up in fifth overall, but his win through the rain and mud in stage seven to cross the finish line wiping the mud from the rainbow stripes was one of the truly great stages in that fabulous race.
His 2010 Tour de France, on the other hand, was not so successful. The first with his new team BMC, he actually fractured his elbow on stage eight, which he did not tell his teammates until the end of stage nine, when he lost the yellow jersey and so much time there was no way to get back into the GC. One of the enduring images of that Tour must be Evans crying in the arms of his teammates at the end of the stage. He’d given it all and he wasn’t crying for himself, but for the heart and faith that his teammates had shown as they rode for him. I’m just one big crybaby when I watch most sport – hell, when I’m watching an Andrex ad! – so that day, I was nearly inconsolable with the emotion of it all.
But Evans came back in 2011 and while Thomas Voeckler and Thor Hushovd were hogging the headlines, Evans quietly and patiently rode until he saw his chance. Bizarrely, that chance came during the stage where Andy Schleck finally stopped looking around and decided that he was going to ride to win the Tour and broke away to climb the Galibier by himself. In the chasing group, Voeckler refused to ride to help pull back time so Evans had to do all the work himself. He rode at the front, in a headwind, pulling the others behind him, to limit his losses.
That stage will go down in Tour history because both Andy Schleck and Cadel Evans rode with more heart than the rest of the peloton put together. Whichever of the two went on to win the Tour deserved the Tour. In the end, it was Evans with his time-trialling skills. The first Australian cyclist to ever win the most prestigious race in the world – and he won it with style.
It’ll be interesting to see what he does this year, but one thing is for sure, no matter who your favourite rider is, Cadel Evans deserves respect. So happy birthday, Cuddles!