Cadel Evans’ victory was one of the seminal moments of Australian cycling. Evans was crowned World Champion in Mendrisio in 2009 and the first Australian to do so. The peak of his career was his thrilling win at the Tour de France in 2011.
Cadel Evans was the first rider from the Southern Hemisphere, and the first Australian to win the world’s greatest bike race. 10 years on, The Inner Sanctum looks back on that achievement, and what it has meant.
After a successful career in mountain biking, Evans switched to road cycling, and immediately became a success. In 2005, at his first attempt, he finished eighth in the Tour de France. Looking back at that result 16 years on, Evans is the only rider in the top 10 who didn’t test positive for performance-enhancing drugs at some point in his career.
Despite the early success, Evans plateaued. He finished fifth in 2006, and runner up in both 2007 and 2008. In both cases, the lack of team strength prevented Evans from getting over the hump.
In 2009, after what was otherwise a disappointing season, Evans made history in winning the World Championships. Before doing so, he finished third in the Vuelta a Espana. In doing so, he became one of just a handful of riders to have led each of the three Grand Tours (Giro d’Italia in 2002, Tour de France in 2008).
After winning the World Championships, Evans changed teams to BMC Racing. Despite the new team, his chance at the 2010 Tour de France was ruined by a fractured elbow.
The Race as it happened
Stage 1 of the 2011 Tour de France had a slight uphill finish, and Evans found a window in the sprint finish to take second on the stage. It showed that his team was a cut above the level of his support of previous years.
Evans would go on to win the final sprint in Stage 4, another achievement. To that time, he had never won a road stage of the Tour. It was a sign of his hot form.
On Stage 9, in a brilliant breakaway, hometown hero Thomas Voeckler took the yellow jersey. He was expected to hold it for a few days but ended up keeping it for eight days.
Stage 16 was the moment that Evans seized on. He attacked on a descent in the wet and took time on his rivals. Stage 17 was the first sign of a crack from Voeckler, as Evans and Andy Schleck reduced his lead to 15 seconds.
On Stage 18, Schleck launched a daring attack more than 60km from the finish. His attack was an attempt to steal the overall victory from Evans. Schleck was concerned that Evans would dominate the Stage 20 time trial.
Stage 19 was unusually short, at around 100km, and both Frank and Andy Schleck attacked early, putting Evans under pressure. Multiple mechanics early put Evans in danger, and Evans spent the rest of the day trying to save the Tour.
Going into the final time trial, Andy Schleck led held the Yellow Jersey, 53 seconds ahead of his brother Frank, and 57 seconds ahead of Evans.
What it meant
The night of 23 July 2011 is imprinted on the brains of so many Australian cycling fans. Dedicated fans and casual observers stayed awake until 2am, watching Evans in the time trial. He took almost two and a half minutes over Andy Schleck, sealing victory by 1:34. After 3,430km of racing, 86:12.22 of racing, the Tour de France was over.
Six years after his first start, and 30 years after Phil Anderson became the first Australian to wear the yellow jersey of the Tour de France, Cadel Evans became the first Australian to win the Tour de France.
Commentator Dr Bridie O’Donnell talks about it as a moment that shaped the way Australians see the Tour.
“We have always had great Australian writers, since Phil Anderson, but Cadel’s performance was an absolute game-changer,” O’Donnell said.
The ratings for the show in that final week were enormous, and we know people still talk about where they were when they watched that final time trial stage.”
The impact it left
Greenedge launched a few months later, as an Australian professional cycling team, in each the men’s and women’s peloton. The profile of cycling in Australia went atmospheric and has never really looked back.
Tiffany Cromwell was riding at that time and is going to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. She recalls how things changed as a result of Evans’ victory.
“In my career, I’ve seen the popularity of cycling get stronger and stronger, and the likes of Cadel winning the Tour really put cycling on the map,” Cromwell said.
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Since then, Greenedge has become a major force in the men’s peloton. In 2013, Simon Gerrans first took the yellow jersey, on Stage 3 of the 2013 edition of the race.
In 2016, Richie Porte, racing for BMC Racing finished fifth overall at the Tour de France. The result marked him as one of the riders to carry on Cadel Evans’ legacy. Porte finished third in 2020, being the best non-Evans Australian to finish at the Tour de France.
Time for another shot?
Richie Porte is coming off a strong performance in 2020. He has spoken about the fact that COVID-19 has reduced his media obligations, and he has enjoyed the racing more.
He became the first Australian to win the Dauphine Libere, a traditional warm-up event, and he will be a strong chance to bring that form across to the Tour.
Lucas Hamilton and Ben O’Connor are young riders coming through and will be dark horse contenders at the Tour in 2021.
Caleb Ewan and Michael Matthews remain two of the most electrifying riders in the professional peloton. Ewan is widely considered the best sprinter in the world, and Matthews is a favourite for a stage win early in the Tour.
On the women’s side, riders like Amanda Spratt and Sarah Roy have taken the Greenedge team to one of the most respected teams in the women’s peloton. Now, riders like Neve Bradbury and Sarah Gigante were among those children who were inspired by Evans’ ride those years ago.
10 years on, the ripples of Cadel Evans’ victory have been felt across Australian cycling, with participation, and presence in the professional peloton.
One of the most magnificent rides in Australian cycling is still having benefits for Australian cycling.
And all those fans preparing for another year of late nights in front of the Tour de France, will be hoping for the same.
The Tour de France starts tonight and runs until 18 July. Coverage is on SBS every evening.
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