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An interview with Cadel Evans, June 15, 2005
Final countdown towards Tour debut
After a spell of bad luck long enough to make some question their place in the sport, Cadel Evans has bounced back in 2005 with a new team, a clean bill of health and plenty of Australian teammates. A strong Classics campaign preceeded yet another break of his collarbone, forcing him to skip some pre-Tour races; but he's back into preparations for the Tour de France and tells Cyclingnews' Shane Stokes how it's all going.
Although the race wasn't originally on his 2005 programme, the Tour of Switzerland is an important benchmark for Cadel Evans. The Australian cracked a collarbone in recent weeks when he hit the deck while training in the Pyrenees, but is hopeful that his target of a strong Tour de France is still on track. The Davitamon-Lotto rider had just two days completely off the bike and then returned to the grind on an indoor trainer. Shortly afterwards, he got back out on the road and resumed his preparations for the Tour, with the biggest disruption coming from a re-jigged racing programme.
Evans had been planning on riding the Tour of Catalunya and then moving on to the Dauphine Libere, where he would have been able to compare his form against the likes of Lance Armstrong, Levi Leipheimer and several other big guns. Recovering from that spill meant that his programme was changed on both accounts; the 28-year-old now set to do just the Tour of Switzerland before heading to France on June 27th.
Evans has a successful history in cycling, having been world MTB champion way back in 1998, World Cup champ one year later and then taking his first European pro road victory when he won the Tour of Austria in 2001. While riding his first full road season with Mapei he briefly held the race leader's jersey in the 2002 Giro d'Italia, and while a heavy spring programme meant he didn't have the necessary reserves to win overall, the strong Grand Tour debut showed that he could fight for such titles in the future.
Evans started 2003 with high hopes, aiming to ride well in his first Tour de France. However the 2003 season was cursed by not one, not two, but three broken collarbones, consigning the year to the scrapheap and testing his resolve and determination to the limit. Evans returned to racing and continued with the T-Mobile squad in 2004, winning the Tour of Austria once again before being inexplicably sidelined by the team for the Tour itself.
Frustrated by his experience with the German squad, Evans then signed a deal to ride with the Davitamon-Lotto team. Things clicked straight away, the Australian expressing his satisfaction with the set-up there and showing good form for much of the first part of the season. Second place on Mont Faron led on to a final finishing position of eighth overall in Paris Nice, after which he went on to place 15th in the Tour of the Basque Country, 9th in Flèche Wallone and 5th in Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
'I am happy with the way the first part of the year has gone,' he said at the time. 'I've had no victories, but all went pretty much according to plan. I was always there where I wanted to be. In Paris-Nice and the Classics I was good - possibly good enough to win but, for one reason or another, it didn't happen. But I was up there. Overall things are building up well towards the Tour.'
Evans went on to do a block of training in the high mountains, and it was here he had his crash on Friday 13th of May. While this derailed the momentum he had built up - to some extent - he told Cyclingnews.com recently that things have been progressing well since then, and the Tour of Switzerland will play an important part in his final preparations.
Cyclingnews: How have you recovered from your recent crash?
Cadel Evans: It is seems to be going okay. I am back to almost where I left off, and all things considered, it is not too bad. It is not what I was planning but, you know, worse things can happen.
CN: How much time did you have off the bike with it?
CE: In terms of days completely off the bike, I think it was two days. I was on the indoor trainer to begin with for a couple of days, and then back out on the road again. It is a little bit uncomfortable now, I still haven't tried sprinting or anything like that, but the shoulder is certainly recovering well.
The main effect was that I missed some races. I was planning to do the Tour of Catalunya, so I missed out on some racing there. Otherwise, training had been going pretty well leading up to that. Now, having had some time out from training, we will see in a couple of weeks how that has affected me.
CN: What is your programme before the Tour?
CE: I was originally planning on doing the Dauphine but will now be doing the Tour of Switzerland. So that is a bit of a change to my race programme. We will see how I am going there - I'm not expecting big things at that race, but we will see how my form is there. And at the Tour, of course!
The Tour of Switzerland will be my last race before the Tour. It finishes on the 19th and you go to the Tour on the 27th. We have done our national championships so I have nothing else to do, really.
CN: Is there any way to tell how the disruption has affected you? Have you done any physiological testing since?
CE: Yeah...I work with my coach Aldo Sassi at the Mapei Centre, and we did a test recently. It's actually not too bad, in terms of the result. It wasn't bad at all.
CN: Being optimistic, the break may mean you have more reserves in the third week of the Tour...
CE: That is the positive way to look at it; that's what we are hoping for! We will see when we get there.
CN: Looking back, how do you feel about your Classics season?
CE: For me, I was happy with the way the first part of the year went. I've had no victories, but all went pretty much according to plan. I was always there where I wanted to be. In Paris-Nice and the Classics I was good - possibly good enough to win but, for one reason or another, it didn't happen. But I was up there, so that always helps.
CN: Looking at riders such as Lance Armstrong, in recent years he tends to have a double peak. He peaks first for the Classics, backs off, and then has a bigger one for the Tour. Was that your goal too, to hit good form for the Classics and then to build up further?
CE: Yeah, exactly. For me, I like to race. It is probably the bottom line. There are races such as Liège-Bastogne-Liège which for me is a pretty good race, so I wanted to be going well there. It is good for the team, it is good for me.
I had two pretty average years, so I just wanted to get back into the swing of things and do the big races before I get to the Tour.
CN: You seem to have been in pretty good form all season. You were second on the mountain stage to Mont Faron in Paris-Nice and eighth overall, then going well in the Classics. You've changed teams, so presumably that move has done you good?
CE: Absolutely. I suppose the big difference where I am now is that everyone is so keen to look after me because I am their only general classification rider for the Tour. Obviously with less big riders there is much more flexibility within the team. If I need to change my programme and so on, it works. Also, I think being a Classics team they were really happy to have a climber because normally when they go to races such as the Tour de Pays Basque or stages like Mont Faron, they come away with little or no results. Whereas this time the team seem to have been quite motivated. Even some of the staff have said to me that they were excited about having me on the team because when they go to the mountains they get a result. It's a change for them.
CN: Your background was in mountain biking, and after making the switch over you settled in very quickly. There have been others such as Miguel Martinez who have found it tougher to make the transition. What you think your qualities are and why has it worked for you?
CE: I think the big difference is that I did a lot of road racing while I was mountain biking. I think the mountain bikers knew I was racing on the road but I don't think they realised how much I was doing of it. It was quite stressful and difficult at the time. If I had a six-week gap or a four-week gap in the mountainbike World Cup season I would go to Italy and race with the Australian Under 23 team, while everyone else went home, went on holidays or whatever. For me, it was good training and I liked racing on the road, with the thought that maybe it could open up an opportunity for me one day. That was always in my mind and motivated me to do that. For me, that would be the biggest difference, because it made the step to go from Under 23's to pro on the road is as gradual a step as you can make, I think.
CN: You entered the Giro in 2002 and did really well, leading it until a couple of stages to go. That must be really encouraging, given that it was your first full season?
CE: I did a couple of races with Saeco the year before; 35 or 40 race days, but it was always in between the mountain bike races. Between training for mountain bike races and training for road races, one was taking away from the other. In my first full year on the road, Mapei were a really good team for me as a foreigner, and coming from mountainbike, because they were used to foreigners and they also had some riders like Dario Cioni from the off road circuit. They knew how to make the most of our abilities and to point us in the right direction, because it is a different sport. I just really found a good place there and a good team, and they were happy to work with me and so on. I am still working with the Mapei Centre and Aldo Sassi now.
CN: You had pretty rotten luck the following year with three broken collarbones...
CE: Yeah, three crashes in three months. Each time I fell on my left side. After the second time, I couldn't believe it. It was a case of no matter what I did, I was just having bad luck. That was by far the unhappiest year of my career.
CN: Was it difficult to keep your motivation up, to keep going?
CE: Yeah. I had to have surgery after the second time and sometimes the general anaesthetic can have an effect on people's bodies. Sometimes it doesn't. But for two, three months I just wasn't myself. In fact, that was the case for the whole year as I couldn't race or even train well. Things didn't click, nothing went ahead. I would go to small races and still have trouble, so that was hard.
CN: Last year you won the Tour of Austria for the second time in your career. Things were looking good for the Tour, but in the end you weren't selected by T-Mobile. Was the situation there that there were simply too many chiefs - what was the problem?
CE: I don't know what was going on with them, what the idea of their selection was. I have no idea. All you can do is move on from something like that.
CN: This year, you will finally get to do the Tour. What are your thoughts as you build towards it - do you feel apprehension, excitement?
CE: For me, both. I am going to the race as a test of my capacities as a Tour rider, as it is going to be my first one. I have all the opportunity with the team behind me, I had a pretty good build-up and a good race programme leading up to it and so I have all the opportunity. But at the same time, it is my first time so I have to go there and get an idea of what kind of Tour rider I can be.
CN: Presumably, even though you cracked just before the end of the Giro in 2002, that race may serve as a pretty good indication...
CE: Yeah, I suppose if you can go to your first Grand Tour and be good in the third week, it is a pretty good indication that you can be a good Tour rider. My problems in the Giro were more to do with inexperience and having a really heavy race programme leading up to it, actually. When the guys left for the Giro this time, I remembered the day I flew to it three years ago. I think I got to the hotel and slept until the prologue. I rode Romandie the week before; it was the year it snowed nearly every day there, so they weren't the nicest conditions for racing. I had been going hard since the start of the year, riding for classification week after week, so it all caught up with me on the last mountain in the Giro.
CN: Anyway, it sounds like things are quite different with Lotto-Davitamon, that you have more freedom and you can plan ahead nicely and pick your races.
CE: Yeah, exactly.
CN: There are probably a couple of obvious answers, but who do you see as the main rivals for the Tour? Also, what goals have you set for yourself?
CE: Like I said, I am going there to see what kind of rider I can be. So not having ridden the Tour, I am not going to say I want to finish here, or there, because I'm just going to see what the Tour is all about. In that sense, I wouldn't say ' rivals,' I would say who are the favourites? For me, I am interested to see people are talking down Vinokourov a lot but I think he might do something pretty special at the Tour. It wouldn't surprise me if he does. There is Lance, of course. It will be interesting to see how Basso comes out of the Giro.
CN: Do you think that is a gamble, doing both in one season?
CE: Yeah, I think so...in addition, there will be all the usual contenders - all the Spanish guys, etc.
CN: And fellow Aussie Michael Rogers is building up to have a good crack at it, too...
CE: Yeah, that will be interesting. How he goes in the mountains will determine how his Tour is, because he is more a time trialist who can climb rather than the other way around. I was training with him a few weeks back. We were talking about his body weight and so on, and he is certainly working on that. Obviously he's got the ability to do big things and he is probably going to do it.
CN: It's an exciting time, I guess, because with Lance about to retire there seems to be a new wave coming through. It should make for a pretty good race.
CE: Yeah, it is going to be a scramble!
CN: After the Tour, have you looked at the rest of the season?
CE: No, we will see how I do at the Tour first! If there is any energy left, yeah, I want to go do some good races (laughs) but right now I am thinking of putting everything into the Tour. If you can do a good Tour, you have a good season right there.
CN: Obviously this answer depends on how you go this year, but long-term, are your ambitions in the sport centred around the Tour?
CE: Yeah, it is going to depend a lot on how I go this year. But obviously, if you can do well at the Tour, what can you do to better that? But for me, races like Liège and Lombardy are also races that really are of interest. It is just about how much you want to put into the Tour, how much you build your year around the Tour. That will affect what else you can do outside of that.
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