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In a nod to the cancelation of the Australian international cycling calendar, we are turning our gaze Down Under for a week of feature stories, interviews, historical analysis, and other content to celebrate Australian cycling as part of Aussie Week.
Incredibly enough, by 2011, some people had written off Evans despite him twice being second. A move to the second-tier BMC Racing outfit in 2010 was seen by some as a step down for Evans, but he quickly proved the doubters wrong. In what was a thrilling tactical battle between Andy Schleck and the rogue attacker Thomas Voeckler, Evans finally captured the yellow jersey on the final time trial stage.
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VeloNews recently spoke with Evans about how he managed the tactical squeeze during that year’s historic Tour. Here are excerpts from the interview:
VeloNews: So where in the world is Cadel Evans these days?
Cadel Evans: We’re in Ticino, near Mendrisio, where the 2009 world championships were held just a couple of kilometers from here, and I’m in my home away from home. We’ve got two boys under the age of two. And we’ve this whole situation now with COVID, right now my life’s very quiet. But thanks to these two little boys, I’ve got plenty to fill my time.
VN: Looking back in your career, some of the statistics are amazing. You were a pioneer mountain biker, and then you transitioned into the road scene, a 20-plus year career with a Tour win, a world title, and more; what does it mean to you looking back on your career?
CE: Looking back at my career, I’m grateful for all the opportunities that cycling gave me. A lot of the opportunities I had to sort of make for myself, but that was all part of the adventure and part of the process. But most of all, I’m probably most proud of the fact that I was a versatile rider at a high level over a long period of time. I think I had my first World Cup victory in mountain biking in 1998, and at the time, I was the youngest World Cup winner. And then I go to 2011, and I was the oldest post-war Tour de France winner. And there was a fair bit that went on between those two periods. By just being able to change disciplines, to adapt, and be at a high level during all that period is probably one of the things I’m most proud of.
VN: You retired at your own race, the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race in 2015, were there any regrets or near-misses that still bother you a bit?
CE: I wanted to close my career having given everything that I could have, and I not having any regrets. And I don’t have any regrets. Of course, I would have liked to have had a little bit more luck on my side occasionally or a little bit less bad luck. But most of all, I look back at my career, and I’m very grateful for everything that cycling gave me.
VN: This year is the 10th anniversary of your victory at the Tour de France. Set the scene what it was like for you going into that Tour?
CE: I joined BMC very late in the 2009 year. With 2010 being our first season, no one expected much from us. 2010 for me was actually one of those years where if I just had a little bit less bad luck things could have been very different. I took the pink jersey but contracted something at the Giro, and then I took the yellow jersey with a broken elbow. In the Tour of that year, it was one of those years that we came so close yet we were so far. But then in 2011, we had already had a solid build-up and a solid string of results leading up to the Tour, and that created within the team sort of feeling that no one wanted to let the team down. And that created this feeling that everyone just wanted to be the best they could at every race we went to. By the Tour, for 2011, we were firing on all cylinders.
VN: Despite yourself twice finishing on the Tour podium, not many considered you a big favorite that year; what was the mood on the team?
CE: We created a real strength of unity within that team. We weren’t real strong in the mountains, but I could sort of look after myself for the most part there in the mountains. We did have this awesome team, with Burghardt, Quinziato, Schar, Hincapie to help me in the flats, and the guys like Morabito to get to the climbs until it was crunch time. We’re all still quite close. I was just talking to Morabito the other day, and exchanging some messages with George. We still have quite a strong bond between most of the team members.
VN: That Tour was interesting because you had the Schlecks really flying in the mountains, Contador hanging around, and Thomas Voeckler taking this early lead; how did the team manage the tactics?
CE: I had to play a little bit with the tactics and risk a little bit. It was one of the few times I saw George panic because I was really trying to let Voeckler go in the break that day [stage 9]. It was probably about the only time in our careers we disagreed on something. It’s like ‘no, no, no, let him go, let him out there, not more than three minutes’ or something. And it was really, it was really close in the end, because we didn’t expect Thomas to be able to hang on for so long. But also at the same time, I wanted to put a bit of pressure on the Schlecks. I wanted the Schleck brothers to chase as well. I didn’t want to have us covering everything for everyone.
VN: Voeckler held on all the way to the Alps. No nerves?
CE: It was just about taking calculated risks. And it was my eighth Tour de France, my 13th or 15th grand tour, and I had been in that situation quite a few times before, so I was confident with that. But when it came down onto the Galibier, that was really where I had to put every day of my 17-year career on the line. To bring back Andy Schleck on the Galibier and keep my eye on his brother, that was really when everything in my career counted.
VN: Stage 18, finishing on top of the Galibier, was a spectacular day of racing, tell us how you managed the dynamics?
CE: I had to use every bit of my expertise to get through that day. I had to make up time on Voeckler, and keep the Schlecks close. By the time we got to the Lautaret, there really wasn’t anyone left to ride. We got on the Galibier, and think it was about nine and a half kilometers, and Contador started to ride, but after that, no one wanted to help me. I think the only one who had a teammate was Voeckler in Pierre Rolland, and he was allowed to ride, and Voeckler, there was no way in hell he was going to help me win the Tour de France. I think in the end it cost him a place on the podium. But that’s his problem, not mine. And I just had to go on my own and really I had to close the gap to Andy Schleck in front, but I had his brother who was on my wheel ready to attack, and I had to save something for those attacks in the last kilometer. I got to the front with about 6km to go, and I think Basso took one or two turns, but he was going too slow, so I asked him politely to get out of my way, and I rode all the way to the finish.
VN: Everything was on the line that day; do you keep it granular, or do you let other thoughts enter your mind?
CE: Like I said, I’ve been in that situation a couple times before so I could stay calm. That’s probably one of the hardest things to learn is to stay calm in that situation. It’s one thing to have the legs to ride, but it’s quite something else to be able to stay calm in that situation. To stay calm and do what needs to be done. I just had to ride. I was in that situation in 2008 on Alpe d’Huez, and I was lacking a bit on the top-end. I didn’t have the legs that year, but in 2011, I had the legs. I had a few cues as well, like when you ride Contador off your wheel, or when Frank Schleck can only gap you with 250 meters to go, you think, OK, this is a good sign.
VN: Voeckler kept yellow at the Galibier, but Andy Schleck took yellow on Alpe d’Huez, and you were third at 57 seconds back going into the time trial, nerves or you got this in the bag?
CE: I had a feeling that Andy was a bit unsettled and he wanted to have more time. I planned everything to be 110 percent ready for that time trial. I had my lines chosen, I had my tires chosen, gearing, just everything was ready to go. I pre-rode the course in the morning, and the rest was to wait until the gun goes off.
VN: Just how big was that for you?
CE: Apart from the fact that I had already come twice second in the Tour by less than a minute was already something. I had been dedicated the previous seven, eight years of my season, of my life, I dedicated so much to the process of getting to the Tour that I hadn’t realized just what I had done when it all happened. I’m sitting in my office now, and I have the cover of L’Equipe that day from the day of the time trial, and it makes me realize what I had achieved. I was so involved at the time in the process that it was some months before I had fully realized what I had achieved and how well the victory was received in Australia.
VN: How is it for you when you are back home in Australia? Do fans ask for your autograph and stop you on the street?
CE: I think a lot of people recognize me, and if it wasn’t for this pandemic, I’d be there right now. I feel very well respected in Australia. I’ve had the border control guy carrying my bikes out for me to my car, and things like that. I just feel so well respected and so well treated by everyone that I feel very honored and very humbled. We can’t wait to get back there. A lot of people came into the sport of cycling during my career, and especially during the Tour. The Tour goes way beyond the sport of cycling. And that was something I hadn’t realized. And I suppose for a lot of people, maybe they don’t follow cycling in Australia, but they do follow the Tour.
VN: Do you plan on any special celebrations this year as part of the 10th anniversary?
CE: We were hoping to celebrate the 10 years since my victory in my public ride we do every year at the Great Ocean Road Race, something that I hope to be participating in until I am 80. That means I will be staying fit and the race will still be going ahead. Unfortunately, we had to make the decision to postpone the race, but maybe we can do something later this year when we can go back to Australia.