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An interview with Cadel Evans, July 7, 2007
Cadel Evans: Yellow mellow
Cadel Evans finished fourth in the 2006 Tour de France and is ready to better himself in this year's running. As the 30 year-old Aussie dodges the Beefeaters of London Cyclingnews' Steve Thomas catches up with the hot Tour favourite.
Even as we write the Tour de France, signing on sheet is being erased and re-written, although as yet there is nothing on the scale of last year's debacle. This year's race looks set to be one of the cleanest and, definitely, one of the most open ever. Bets are all over the place, but one man you can certainly put an each way on is Cadel Evans.
So far this season Evans has shown decent form, but lacks the results of last year. "I certainly have not had the same form yet, and it's hard to say – we'll see that on the road in the next weeks." Following last year's great performance the Tour is set as a serious priority. "I have changed the way I do things a little, like not racing in January and not focussing so much on the Classics." He has matured overall in the last years. "Every year, I learn more and work more on my time trialling and climbing, and seem to be developing more and more every year as a grand tour rider, so I hope that progression continues."
Mendrisio is the European home to Evans. The town in southern Switzerland, which is close to Varazze and Como in Italy, is an area that has always been something of a hotbed for pro bike riders. "There's always been a lot of top Italians in the area [Garzelli and Nardello are just down the road], and then the Motorola team [including a young Armstrong] came here, and it snowballed from there. The AIS team is also based nearby, and Michael Rogers is often just off in the other direction. ... I tend to train a lot on my own, although I like to get out with the young AIS guys, it's fun training with them, they're so keen."
It was this very AIS system that helped integrate Evans into the road scene. "I'd been persuaded to try road racing to help my mountain biking, and I started with a few local crits in Melbourne and then started to race some with the under 23 AIS team in Italy. Then I decided to take up an offer from my sponsor at the time, Cannondale, to ride part of the season with the Saeco team. I was not really enjoying the mountain biking at the time, things were not great in the team, and the schedule only worked out at half a seasons worth of racing."
His pro road "part time moonlighting" job certainly thrust him to the forefront of team mangers end of season must buy lists. "I'd won the Tour of Austria, and shown I could climb. I did a decent ride at the World Championships and then Mapei approached me. They asked if I wanted to join them as a potential Grand Tour leader. Wow, I'd always dreamed of the Tour de France; it was handed to me on a silver platter. I jumped at the chance."
The Mapei system was one of the most respected, powerful and largest organisations ever to be involved in pro bike racing. The transition from solo mountain biker to a major pro road team was made easy. "The system at Mapei was second to none. They put me with Dario Cioni, who spoke good English, and had been a mountain biker. It really helped having him to show me the ropes. It really was like one big family, it was great. I'd never before seen such attention to detail. They would help with everything from bike set up and positioning to training."
It was during his time at Mapei that he had that unforgettable time in the 2002 Giro leader's the pink jersey. "I'd never suffered so much before, I just blew, and could do nothing about it. I'd got through OK so far, but that was the day that told. I'd gone from racing a maximum of three hours a time, to the Giro.
"My job was to play reserve leader, just in-case. Then when it came to the time trial me and [Andrea] Noè were about even, and I came out on top and so assumed the roll of team leader, he still ribs me about it." They say riding a Grand Tour changes a rider and it was no different for Evans. "For sure I get stronger and increase my level every time. But the whole road and team thing has changed me a lot as a person too. I used to be very insular, the road had brought me out of that and made me more open, and more of a team player."
With the unfortunate demise of Mapei Evans moved to the Telekom team, which was to say the least not a great time in his career. "Well, it certainly was not the happiest of times. The whole atmosphere and set up was very different. You were pretty well left to sort yourself out, and there was very little in the way of information, I never knew what was happening. So I was quite happy to move on."
That move took him to Belgium, and the Predictor-Lotto team, where he's now in his third season, and riding with a whole bunch of other Aussies. "It was actually the first time I've been on a team with other Aussies, I didn't know what to expect. I didn't know them too well, and don't race that often with them – but we do meet up and socialise and stuff back in Australia. It's a lot more fun, that's for sure. The team set up is very different too. It's almost as if the team setup was from a decade before; where they go to a tour with riders for certain rolls. It's quite an old team too, so the riders are entrusted a lot to train and do things their own way, which is good."
Last year started out as a strange and worrying early season for Evans, with a poor showing in his targeted Spring Classics, and then the announcement of some strange disease. "Every time the pressure went on I'd get blurred vision and headaches, which meant losing my balance, and so I could not perform. I went to a doctor. They asked for the symptoms and made a very rash judgement. They said it was Horton's Syndrome, a genetic and life shortening disease. Luckily, my cousin is a doctor, he called and said it was not possible, and eventually they came back and said it was Hunters' disease, which is something that goes away after a month or so. It was caused by something getting behind my eye, and it all cleared up fairly quickly."
And recover he did; returning to the Tour de Romandie where he took the overall victory in the closing time trial. "It was such a relief to me. I finally had some pay back for the team. We'd had a bad early season, then at Romandie it all went perfectly. I didn't realise at the time, but it was my biggest ever win on the road."
Originally from the Northern Territory, but brought up mainly in Melbourne by his mother, Evans still considers Victoria as home. "That's where we have our main house. And we spend a lot of time there in the European winters, but Europe will be home for most of the year for quite a while to come." It's back at home where he keeps his cars. "I really love cars, especially old Mustangs. I've got one back home. I'm also a life long fan of Tintin. My mum still sends me new or different books, he was my childhood hero."
The year 2005 was a huge one for Evans, with an impressive eighth place overall finish at the Tour, and some amazing performances in the mountains, where he stuck like glue to the wheel of Armstrong. "Nobody, not even me, expected to be in that position. It was far more than I'd hoped for. I kept my head down and suffered so much. I just kept pushing into the red. At times, I didn't know whether I should push so hard and risk blowing, but I did. In hindsight there were times where I should have eased off some; I think I learned a lot from the experience, and for the good."
Going in to last years Tour Evans was an outside favourite for a podium slot, and as we know it all went pear shaped for the great race, ending in chaos, and the result of the race still hangs in the balance. As it stands, Evans finished fourth overall. "It's hard to say, because nobody really knows what the situation was," he noted as he looked back on the whole experience. "I think the day Phonak let Pereiro go was decisive, and a crazy move, without it things would have been very different. Then the day Landis went away, I was two wheels behind; we had to let him go, and thought no way would he survive.
CSC and T-Mobile should have chased him down earlier, they had the race to win, and I had only one rider with me for the finale. No rider has ever come back from anything like that in Tour history. But, now I'm just focussing on this year's race. I am happy with how I performed last year, and just hope to go better this year."
In the past, Evans has always had a lack of team support when it comes to the mountains and controlling the race. "In the mountains I've always relied heavily on Chris Horner, and I will do so this year. Now, I also have Dario Cioni for the mountains, and we definitely have a stronger GC team. I think this will definitely help things for me."
Evans has a clear list of danger-men. "Vino, Klöden, Valverde, Menchov, Sastre, the usual bunch – but at the moment it's really hard to say how things will go." He will take risks when needed to get to the podium. "If the opportunity opens up I will go for it, but I will have to see how the race unfolds."
Evans and Rogers gives Australia a great chance of seeing one of its riders on the podium. "I think so, we definitely have the best ever chance!" Evans concluded.