It seems incomprehensible looking at his palmarès now, but back in 2011, Cadel Evans, twice a podium finisher at the Tour de France, world champion two years previously and almost a winner of the Giro d’Italia the year after, was effectively written off.
“I remember reading some criticism from a team manager of a French team who said that I was finished,” Evans recalls to Cycling Weekly. “I was, he claimed, just a one-day rider now and was no more.”
As the adage goes, it was fuel loaded onto the fire; an inferno that was already well ablaze within the BMC Racing ranks and the Evans household. So unlucky in the past in his quest to become Australia’s maiden Tour winner, Evans was determined to right the wrongs of 2010, when he failed in the Giro and the Tour.
And 2011 was his year. “There was little expectation externally,” he explains, “but within the team we were ambitious, doing the work on a well-defined programme, and all it needed was to repeat 2010 but have some luck this time.” Everything came together as he dominated early-season stage races en route to finally winning that elusive yellow jersey.
To understand the scepticism of Evans, we have to rewind to the start of 2010.
The former mountain biker, resplendent in the rainbow jersey and coming off the back of a win at Flèche Wallonne, went into the Giro d’Italia as a hot favourite. He was in pink by the end of stage two, but then a bout of untimely diarrhoea knocked him, dropped him as low as 15th before he roused to finish fifth.
At the subsequent Tour de France, he moved into yellow following stage eight, despite that being the day where he fractured his elbow. After the first rest day, holding a 1-01 advantage over Alberto Contador, he cracked on the Col de la Madeleine, finishing a lowly 26th in Paris. The rest of his season petered out.
A pattern had emerged, so went the narrative. Through luck, misfortune, or perhaps other matters, when pressure dialled up, and Evans had the favourite tag around his neck, he buckled.
He saw it differently though. “When speaking about 2011, I think you need to understand that 2010 was just the dress rehearsal without the results,” the Australian says. “Everything was there, and I was close to getting the same results I’d got a year later, but I had too much bad luck. If I hadn’t had that bad luck, we could have won the Giro and possibly the Tour that year.”
Evans had finished second at the Tour in 2007 and 2008, and everywhere he turned, his reputation for being the nearly man was being screamed back in his face. “It became this bizarre thing where every day at least someone would mention that I had finished second twice at the Tour,” he reveals. “I would go to the bakery, to the supermarket, and everyone followed. People didn’t ask how I was going, but more if I honestly felt I could win the Tour.
1x Tour de France
1x Road race world champion
2x Tour de Romandie
1x Flèche Wallonne
2x Tour de France stages
1x Giro d’Italia stage
2x 2nd on GC at Tour de France
“I liked to get off the bike, have a shower, step away from cycling, but I had become so known – my results had become so ingrained in people’s minds – that I would go for a walk in the park with my dog and someone would remind me. I couldn’t escape it. Being asked that every day of the year, you forget your own mindset. It was about reminding myself consciously that, yes, I can win the Tour – if only I avoid some bad luck.”
An action plan was put in place. BMC believed him – a far cry from Silence-Lotto in 2007 who, Evans says, “lost complete faith in me for the future and thought I’d never win big again.” Instead of returning to Australia for the whole winter, he and his family were in their Switzerland base by Christmas. It helped him focus.
“When I go back to Australia, I have nine months of life to catch up on and it’s not restful,” he says. “Being in Europe, there were no cars on the road and Christmas is a much quieter affair compared to the party season in Australia. I had no distractions or unnecessary stresses from the press. Things were going really well.”
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