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Allez Cadel!

Yesterday Webdiarist Dylan Kissane emailed a piece to add to our small (but perfectly formed) Sports category. In contrast to most of the previous articles – Hamish Alcorn's wonderful There are More Important Things than National Elections, Mike Salter's marvellous The Football Refusers, and PF Journey's excellent The SCG Cricket Match: The new Lagaan (Richard Tonkin’s thought-provoking Battling an invisible enemy ruins my dichotomy, so I shall ignore it…) – Dylan’s contribution does not concern balls. Well, not directly. Thank you Dylan. Vive la France et les pommes frites, et allez Cadel!


Allez Cadel!
by Dylan Kissane

The month of July means only one thing for the world of cycling: Tour de France.

The three-week stage race that takes competitors on a 3500km tour of France is the sport’s premier challenge and this year the pre-race favourite is a young man who has made his way from the heat of Katherine in the Northern Territory to the heights of professional cycling on the other side of the world.

Cadel Evans was born in Katherine on 14th February 1977. In an interview with Andrew Denton in 2007, his mother recalled that he was a typical Territory tear-about:

Andrew Denton: What kind of a boy was he, what did he get up to?

Helen Evans: All sorts of things. He was very active. He was always out and about, you couldn’t stop him, he just did everything.

AD: Was he always on bikes?

HE: Yeah, yeah, yeah he was a bit mad about wheels.

AD: You were in the Northern Territory, weren’t you? I guess there was no limit to how far he could ride?

HE: Exactly. Yeah I used to have to call the dog, to find out which direction he went in so it could chase him.

He was a talented junior cyclist winning his first national title in 1993 when he took out the Under-17 Cross Country Mountain Bike title. The next year he took out the Under-19 Cross Country Mountain Bike title and managed a first place in the US Championships, too. By 1995 he was a certified mountain biking star. In a single year he dominated the domestic mountain biking season winning the national title as well as his first World Championship medal, a bronze in the Under-23 Cross Country in Germany. Significantly, Cadel also finished in the top 20 of the Mountain Bike version of the Tour de France – he would come to know the mountains of that country very well a decade later.

Evans continued his successful career off-road through to the end of the 2000 season before turning to the lucrative world of road cycling in 2001, signing with the Italian Saeco team. His first season on the road was a mixed affair: he managed a top-30 finish in the world championship but was mainly confined to second-tier races as he made the transition from the dirt to the road. By 2002, however, Cadel began to establish himself as a rider for the future. Four victories, high places on individual stages of major European stage races including the Giro d’Italia (Tour of Italy) and Paris-Nice kept new sponsor Mapei happy and a 14th overall in the Giro d’Italia had commentators suggesting he might be a future stage race champion.

Stage racing demands a physiology and psychology that is far removed from the average person and winners of stage races are another step up altogether. Take the great Spanish cyclist Miguel Indurain who won the Tour de France five times. Indurain had the capacity to circulate some 7 litres of oxygen in his blood compared to 5 or 6 for a world class cyclist and just 3 for the average person in the street. His resting heart rate was 29 beats per minute where an averagely fit person is happy with a resting rate of 60. Another champion, American Lance Armstrong, a seven time Tour de France winner, has a heart that is around 30% larger than the average person and made an incredible recovery from life-threatening cancer to the top of his sport. Cadel’s own physiology along with his smooth transition from flat stages to the rolling intermediate stages, his ability to ride with the best in the mountains and to work with his team-mates on the world’s highest ranked cycling squad had Australian fans thinking that they might just have a future Tour winner on their hands.

Yet 2003 and 2004 were lean years for the Australian with little more than a victory in the second-tier Tour of Austria to give hope to his fans. Injury ravaged, Evan’s lived in the shadow of his more fancied team-mates on the German Telekom team. Team leader Alexander Vinokourov finished third in the 2003 Tour de France and – with the return of German wunderkind Jan Ulrich in 2004 – the German squad again made the podium in Paris. For Evans, riding in the shade of two superstars was never going to be a long term prospect. Still denied a start in cycling’s biggest spectacle, as the 2005 season rolled around Cadel signed on with the Belgian Davitamon-Lotto squad.

If 2002 was the year that had Australian fans thinking ‘what if?’ then 2005 was the year that had them screaming ‘I told you so!’ In his first attempt at the Tour de France Evans delivered with five top-10 stage finishes and an incredible 8th place overall. The magnitude of this achievement can be understood by recalling that Evans was the first Australian to place in the Tour’s top-10 in twenty years and only the second Australian rider to ever achieve that honour. An 8th place overall in the shorter stage race Paris-Nice seemed to confirm what Aussie fans had long suspected: if Australia had a chance for winning in July it would be the boy from Katherine.

Evans’ 2006 season eclipsed his great 2005 season: 1st overall in Switzerland’s Tour of Romandie, 2nd overall in the Tour of Poland and top-10 placings in Spain’s Vuelta al Pais Vasco and the Tour of Switzerland. When the summer rolled around and Cadel lined up in Strasbourg for the 93rd Tour de France he was listed as a favourite for the very first time. Though his team was still committed to fellow Australian Robbie McEwen’s bid for the Green Jersey (usually described as a competition for the sprinters), Evans had the chance to push for the overall crown and the Yellow Jersey that comes with it. Strong performances in the mountains saw Evans finish 4th overall, the highest ever finish by an Australian in the race.

All signs pointed to 2007 as being ‘the year’ that the ex-mountain biker from NT would finally cross the finish line on the Champs-Elysees with yellow on his back. Bettering even his record-setting ride of 2006, Evans finished second to Spain’s Alberto Contador and gave Australia its first ever place on the Tour’s podium. Last year’s race was the second closest in history with the difference between Contador and Evans a mere 23 seconds. To put this in perspective, Contador and Evans had ridden for more than 91 hours over 20 days and 3,569 kilometres – at this pace 23 seconds represents around 250 metres.

Second place, though, is not good enough for Evans this year. This season has been all about those three weeks in France for the 31 year old Australian and he is a 2/1 favourite to finish in yellow on the 27th of July. Having just finished 2nd overall in France’s Criterium du Dauphine Libere stage race last weekend, Cadel reports on his blog that everything is coming together for the biggest race of the year:

Overall, it’s been a good week of a tour ‘dress rehearsal’. I feel I’m coming along, and I have to say; I am very happy the way the team is coming along. Weeks and months of planning are coming together now...Now we enter our final Tour phase, a bit of a rest, a final training camp, probably hundreds of interviews, but always working towards July.

When he rolls out of Brest in France’s Brittany region on Saturday the 5th of July Cadel Evans will carry the hopes of a nation on his back as he seeks to do what no other Aussie has ever done and – at the same time – join a list of the sport’s true champions. As the official website of the race puts it:

It’s a fundamental principle: a Tour that starts in Brittany finishes with the crowning of a cycling giant. Look at the evidence: Brest 1952: 1st Coppi; Rennes 1964: 1st Anquetil; Brest 1974: 1st Merckx; Plumelec 1985: 1st Hinault; Saint-Brieuc 1995: 1st Indurain!

Five stars on a flawless prize list. Coppi, Anquetil, Merckx, Hinault, Indurain: five cycling legends who, in turn on the Tour, garnered the force in Brittany to clinch an ultimate triumph in this prized race three weeks later. Is this not the stuff of tales and legends...

In little more than a month we’ll know whether the next name on the list and the next legend of the Tour is a gifted young athlete from Australia’s Top End. And the many Australians who will follow the race here in France and on SBS this year will be shouting: Allez Cadel!

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Rest Day

The title of this thread is 'Allez Cadel' and it was exactly what we were yelling at the TV yesterday afternoon as Cadel Evans made his way up the Tourmalet and the final climb to Hautacam. On one of the hardest stages of the race the Australian on the Belgian squad finished 2 minutes and 17 seconds behind the stage winner to gain the leader's yellow jersey by a solitary second.

Cadel has had a steller opening week to the Tour de France, the highlight being his performance against the clock in the first Individual Time Trial. Over a relatively short distance he managed to beat all of his major rivals by a fair distance, scaring a few who thought that he would have to hold out until the penultimate Time Trial over more than 50km to make big gains. He has ground out fair perfomances in the Pyranees over the last few days - nothing fantastic but steady and consistent - and now is looking forward to defending his place at the head of the peleton over the coming days as the race heads towards the Alps.

Odds on Cadel taking out the big prize in Paris have shortened considerably since the start of the race. I managed to get on him at $3.00 a few weeks ago and - checking the status this morning - saw he is now a $1.66 favourite. The betting shops can't account for the all the possible events that might see Cadel pushed out of first place before the 27th of July but it's encouraging the see that punters are feeling confident about the boy from Katherine.

So what's ahead for Cadel? There are a couple of rolling stages before the moutains reappear and take up everyone's attention again. The Alps will test all the riders before the final Time Trial from Cérilly sorts out the winners from the losers in the race for overall glory. There's a reasonable chance that Cadel will lose the yellow jersey before Paris and win it back on the second-to-last stage but it will come down to the efforts of his team and the desire amongst his rivals...and you can bet that anyone not in yellow will keep trying to win it off his back.

For the interested, a couple of sites to keep track of Cadel's efforts are the blog of Cadel's wife, Chiara, the official site of the race and Pez Cycling News for an entertaining take on the 2008 TDF.

Off-topic but I can't resist

My apologies, Dylan, but I want to make a comment about last night's Wimbledon Men's Final.

My family didn't have a TV until 1967. Why we finally succumbed (given that Canberra finally was networked in 1962) is not a story fit for Webdiary. Nevertheless, once we had it, in the teeth of my father's objections, he became an addict.

No more so than when the tennis was on, and of course the biggest draw of all was Wimbledon. So, every year, we would watch until the wee sma, going to work/school next day with dark circles under the eyes. (Query: how can one have circles under one's eyes?)

For me, the quintessential Final was that of 1975, when Arthur Ashe defeated Jimmy (the Brat) Connors (the "brat" title was rapidly assumed by John McEnroe). I don't think I have ever been so engrossed in a tennis match - and for me, of course, it was the only possible result.

These days, my present house is too cold, and I am too sleepy, to stay up all night. Nevertheless, I did have the radio on and listened, drifting in and out of sleep, until that longest of all finals came to an end. What a match. What a result. Are we really so lucky as to be seeing the two greatest ever male tennis players at the same time? Are we also so lucky as to be seeing two of the greatest and most generous players of all time? Federer's speech was honest, touching, magnanimous. So different to Pete Sampras - yes, I know he was never defeated at Wimbledon - but, whenever he did lose it was always because his ankle or whatever was playing up, never that his opponent had outplayed him.

So, Roger and Raffa, I salute you both.

Tennis and the Tour

We missed the Wimbledon final, Fiona, having a certain cycling race to follow. Reading the paper over lunch, though, and I got the feeling that we missed out. The front page of the paper (see an image of it here) labelled the match "one of the most extraordinary finals in the open era" and the headline labelled them "Giants". On to Flushing Meadows now and with no cycling to get in the way. :)

As far as the Aussies are going in France, well they've started quite well. Cadel is sitting in 5th as they roll out of St Malo this afternoon and is only 1 second behind the leader (and major rival) Valverde. He won't take that second back today but will hope to be able to tomorrow in the first individual time trial. Indeed, with all the favourites seperated by no more than 1 second, Tuesday's time trial looms as the first real chance for the big guns to put some time between themselves and the rest. Though it is not a long stage (only 29.5km) it is the first test for the would-be winners.

Last year Cadel won one of these individual tests and came in second in the other. Both were longer (around 55km each) and he was able to gain valuable time over his rivals. It will be harder for him to do so tomorrow. While the winner of the time trial will more than likely take on the race leade, Cadel will be happy just to put time between himself, Valverde and the rest. A good placing with a nice gap to the guys who can climb will be just as good as a narrow win on the day. Should be a great stage.

As I type this the TV is reporting that a small group of 4 riders is more than 14 minutes ahead with 130km left to go for the day. It's a nice lead to have and they might be imagining stage winning glory about three hours down the road. They have the 'magic' lead where such things become possible, being a one minute lead for every 10km left to ride. This is not a strict rule (Australian Stuart O'Grady had an 8 minute lead only 50km from the finish of a stage into Lyon in the 2003 Tour de France and was caught only 500 metres from the line) but its a fair rule of thumb. I've a feeling they'll be caught, though, as the teams of the sprinters will want to try their hand before tomorrow turns the eyes of the press corps to the likely overall winners. A day for Robbie McEwen, perhaps?

Glorious, immortal, unprecedented victory...

Dylan Kissane, I thought you might enjoy last night's Perspective on ABC Radio National from Will Hallahan. Here's a teaser for you:

Every once in a while, after years of planning and saving and convincing my boss that I deserve a long holiday, and if my prayers that interest rates stay low are answered, I book a European holiday. Workmates and distant relatives, on hearing the news that I am bound for Paris with a bike in tow, smile, nod their heads and, in an earnestly sincere attempt to evince a genuine interest in my travels, ask: 'oh, will you be riding the Tour de France?'

Can't wait

We can't wait for the race to start here, Fiona. There is a real feeling in the press and amongst the local Aussies (obviously!) that Cadel will win this year and tomorrow can't come soon enough.

The media coverage here is just incredible. Probably the closest in terms of the Australian experience is the coverage of the Olympics. Putting that in perspective, though, the Olympics has some two dozen sports, lasts just over two weeks and only takes place every four years. The Tour de France is a single race, lasts more than three weeks and takes place every July. It really is one of the most fiercely covered sporting events on the planet.

To give a taste of what I can look forward too, tomorrow there is about 8 and a half hours of live TV broadcasting largely without advertisements. This will continue almost every day (the rest days are lighter) on two TV channels as well as being streamed live by the stations online. Add to this saturation-style coverage in the newspapers (including L'Equipe, the biggest selling newspaper in France that is dedicated wholey to sport) and on the radio and it will be hard to avoid the race here in France.

Of course, the same rings true for the rest of the world. 180 countries will broadcast the race and 168 of those will broadcast it live (including Australia). For some reason SBS didn't choose to broadcast in HD, though other countries will, including New Zealand.

For any Australian Webdiarists who choose to stay up tomorrow night and watch the first stage it should be a doozy. Usually the race starts with a very short (6 or 7km) individual time-trial and the rider with the best time will wear the leaders jersey in the first 'real' stage. This year there is no short prologue and the race begins from the fall of the flag. There are no time bonuses along the route of the stage so the guy who crosses the line first will be the first Yellow Jersey of the race. It should be a day for the sprinters but the last two kilometres are slightly uphill so it might not all go their way. While Cadel almost certainly won't be the leader tomorrow evening his teammate (and fellow Aussie Robbie McEwen) just might have the legs to get up.

Tour time is here and it's going to be fantastic.

Great images, great drama

The Tour makes good television. The scenery is often stunning, and the race itself provides some great images and drama. With good commentators to locate you in the race and explain the details, I start believing I understand the complexities. And Paul's comment about rhythm is spot on.

I like the breakaways - the proud heroes, out in front, doing it for the sponsors. The peloton, cruising, waiting. Usually it was just for the sponsors, and our hero tires, slows, and is soon watching the peleton, still cruising, fade into the distance. But sometimes you see the peleton decide enough is enough, and pick up the tempo. The pack has its own issues, though. The breakaway's team-mates think there's a chance for a stage win, so they'll get to the front to slow the pack down. Aspirants to the Green Jersey want the win, so they will get to the front as well, to increase the pace. Meanwhile, Yellow Jersey sits back, surrounded by his muscle, content to finish the stage at the front of the pack. Sometimes, very rarely, the breakaway crosses the line first, with not a bike in sight behind him. This is the stuff of legend, and makes the sponsors very happy.

My recollection is that before McEwen made his spectacular dive over the cliff last year there seemed to be confusion over the team's aims. They had chances for both Green and Yellow, and, particularly since McEwen was doing so well, weren't sure where best to put the effort. Since they're keeping their options open at the start, the workhorses are more balanced than designed for either strategy. (Dylan's point, at least roughly.) With McEwen doing so well early, the team is putting in more work on the sprints than you would going for Yellow. Which means they are buggered on the mountains. It was noticable towards the end that Evans didn't have the team about him that Contador and the other leaders did.

And a seasonal movie: Les Triplettes de Belleville. Not to everyone's taste, from the IMBD comments, but I like it.


Thanks for that, Dylan. 

You must do a bit of cycling, then. The mountain stages in particular look hard work. In fact it all looks hard work.

Vélo'v and Paris

Paul, the only cycling we get up to now is around the park on the weekend or aboard one of the communal Vélo'v bikes to get around town - now there's an idea a carbon friendly Aussie city might take on board!

We won't be able to get the mountain stages this year which are - from all accounts - spectacular up close. I'm actually out of the country during the second half of the race but I'm flying back into Paris on the last day of the Tour. Should Cadel be in a position to win I've already informed my wife I may 'accidentally' miss the connecting train back home. There's sure to be one hell of a party in the Australian bars that night should he win!

Champs d'Elysée

Half ya luck!

Also a new and greener world aiming for survival needs less resentment from big car owners, etc, and more of your sort of attitude re alternative transport and making the adjustment in general.

Evans and McEwen

Paul, Cadel Evans is from Katharine in the Northern Territory. I'm not sure whether this precludes him from having some sort of connection to a town on the Murray but he is certainly not an SA boy.

As for costing McEwen, there is probably a little bit of truth to this. Teams in a stage race choose theiir riders based on an overall race strategy. Not all teams have a rider capable of winning the race overall and, indeed, not every team goes into the race even thinking about winning the race. Some teams qualify for the race on 'wildcard' spots (usually French teams) and ride the race with the aim of getting their jerseys - and therefore their sponsors - in front of the TV cameras for long periods. As a result, these weaker teams may spend the first week doing nothing more than trying to escape the rest of the field knowing that they will likely be caught after a couple of hours of effort - and the sponsor gets 2 hours of free promotion across the world.

Other teams - such as Evans' and McEwen's Davitamon-Lotto squad in years past - enter with the aim of winning the Green Jersey (usually for sprinters) and stock their team with the sorts of riders who will help their sprinter get over the line first. When Davitamon-Lotto worked to win this jersey for McEwen it meant stocking the squad with bigger, heavier and stronger riders who would help him in the final kilometres.

This year, however, Davitamon-Lotto is gearing up for an all out assault on the biggest prize of all: the Yello Jersey for Cadel. This means a much more balanced team is required, including adding in perhaps two or three specialist climbers (the guys who actually enjoy riding up mountains) to help pace Cadel in the most difficult stages. There'll be a couple of strong riders to help chase on the flatter stages and, of course, there'll be Robbie McEwen to try and win in the sprints. The difference, though, is that he won't have all the help he did in previous years as the goal of the team is not winning Green but winning Yellow.

So will the team working for Cadel make it less likely that McEwen wins stages? Probably - without the support of a strong team willing to put it all on the line in the final kilometres it is hard to win. Then again, McEwen is a pretty handy bike rider most of the time and even without a lot of support he might (hopefully) still pull off a stage or two.


Reading somewhere this elevation of Cadel Evans comes at the expense of the mercurial Robbie McEwen.

This fellow (Evans) is South Australian, so presumably his name has a connection with the old irrigation block and paddle steamer town of the same name on the Murray.

Anyway, have come to regard the Tour as a good buzz, both for the competition and the scenery. Has its own rhythm that onlookers find themselves slipping into.

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