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A conversation with Phil Anderson, the first Australian in the maillot jaune

Phil Anderson, Photo: Graham Watson
Anderson in the 1983 Tour, when he finished 9th. Photo: Graham Watson | www.grahamwatson.com

Australia has been a powerhouse in cycling over the last decade, with impressive results on the track and road, a Tour de France win with Cadel Evans and an expected top-tier pro team for 2012.

But one of Australia’s early pros will forever be in the hearts of fans of a certain age: Phil Anderson.

Now in his early 50s, Anderson lives along the Great Ocean Road, in Victoria, Australia, close to Cadel Evans. He runs a bike tour company and still rides the odd mass participation event and takes part in triathlons.

Phil Anderson major results

1981: Tour de France, 10th overall, first Australian to wear the yellow jersey (for one stage).
1982: Tour de France, 1 stage win and 5th overall; wins Best Young Rider competition, wears yellow jersey for 9 days
1983: Tour de France, 9th; Amstel Gold Race, 1st
1984: Tour de France, 10th; Züri-Metzgete, 1st; Rund um den Henninger Turm, 1st; Setmana Catalana de Ciclisme, 1st; Liège–Bastogne–Liège, 2nd.
1985: Tour de France, 5th; Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré, 1st; Tour de Suisse, 1st, 3 stage wins; Rund um den Henninger Turm, 1st; E3 Prijs Vlaanderen, 1st
1986: Paris–Tours, 1st
1987: Milan-Torino, 1st
1988: Danmark Rundt, 1st
1989: Tour de Romandie, 1st
1990: Giro d’Italia, 1 stage win
1991: Tour de France, 1 stage win; Tour of Britain, 1st; Semaine Cycliste Intl., 1st; Tour Mediterranean, 1st; Tour DuPont, 1 stage win
1992: Tour of Ireland, 1st; Tour DuPont, 3 stages
1993: Tour of Britain, 1st; GP Impanis, 1st; Tour of Sweden, 1st
1994: Commonwealth Games, Gold, Team Time Trial

In July of 1981 a 23-year old Anderson made cycling history by becoming the first ever non-European leader of the Tour de France.

“At the time I had no idea of the significance of taking the jersey,” Anderson told VeloNews recently. “You don’t tend to dwell on your results. I wasn’t trying to be the first, I just wanted to get the best results for myself and the team.”
Anderson was riding in his first Tour, and this was his second season of riding with the illustrious French Peugeot team, where he was bunked alongside Scottish climber Robert Millar; both were graduates of the Parisian-based ACBB club.

Earning a “scholarship” to ride for the club was prized as one of the greatest opportunities in cycling for riders from “non-mainstream” cycling nations such as Australia, USA, UK, and Ireland. Graduation from the ACBB was another level all together, and only the creamiest of the cream made it through to the pro ranks; names like Yates, Bauer, Roche, and Millar amongst their number, with the club’s bike sponsors, Peugeot, being the most popular pro team port of call.

On coming to Europe he was introduced to a whole new world; “When I started racing in Europe I became a lot more aware of the pro circuit. The Sun Tour (Paris-Nice) started nearby to where we were living, and I remember going down there and seeing the riders; Hinault, Knetemann and Lubberding, all warming up. I’d never seen the professional aspect of the sport before and I though it would be great to be racing on the pro circuit. During the year I got offers from teams, and it just got better and better.”

The awakening

Back then cycling was very much a minority sport at best in countries such as Australia and the U.S. There was no Internet, and virtually no chance for Australian cyclists to get any kind of a glimpse into the big wide world of pro bike racing.

“I didn’t really know what to expect, there was so little cycling culture in Australia. I had no pre-conceived ideas. I knew it would be hard, and expected the worse. I got over there and there were 250 riders in a one-day race, while in Australia there were probably not even 250 riders in the whole country. The difference was huge. Some riders were not prepared and got sent home.”

The concept of professionalism was naively new to the young Aussie; “I didn’t really know that it existed. I mean, we had professionals in Australia, but the only difference was a few extra dollars (I think) for a licence.”

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