Cadel Evans used to be an annoying whiner, prone to piques of anger and spectacular failings of courage when courage might just have won him a race he’d later feel compelled to complain about having lost. Then he won the World Championship. Apparently, wearing the rainbow stripes has a powerful, character-improving effect on its designated bearer. Since that day in Mendrisio, Cadel has been transformed.

Or perhaps this is just what came from training with the late Aldo Sassi for the better part of a decade, and living year round in Italy. Perhaps Sassi’s ways finally took hold, once the high guru of athletic performance was diagnosed with the brain tumor that ended his life. Sassi’s restorative powers were even thought capable of purifying Ricardo Riccó, before the Cobra himself put paid to that possibility. Perhaps the change was taking place in the run up to Worlds. Regardless.

Up to that point, we were used to seeing an exceptionally strong rider who could climb, roll and time trial, a true all-rounder, but one seldom inclined to impose his will on a race. But then the inscrutable Aussie won la Fléche Wallonne, pounding up the Mur de Huy with Alberto Contador fading behind him. It was a hugely impressive win and one that marked a real re-launching of the Evans brand.

Moody and combative became mature and almost statesmanlike. Overly cautious became bold. Bitter became very nearly joyful. This was a rider finally seeming to like his job.

A Giro stage win and green jersey followed. He donned the maillot jaune at the Tour as well, if only briefly. Third at Tirreno-Adriatico. Fourth at Liege-Bastogne-Liege. The man did the stripes proud, not only through his results, but through the style of them and in sterling attitude.

That is why a rider, once easily dismissed as a bit part malcontent, is now revered, and it’s what made seeing him standing atop the final podium at this year’s Tirreno-Adriatico holding that ridiculous trident trophy deeply pleasing. Spraying the crowd down with his valedictory Prosecco, Evans was—at last—worthy.

That he had shed every skinny Italian climber on the road to win Stage 6 in a style entirely reminiscent of his win in Huy last year was revelatory. Rather than simply winning, Evans lit up the race.

If indeed, it was the rainbow stripes that hastened Evans’ transformation, I can think of a few other riders who might benefit from the treatment.

Image: John Pierce, Photosport International

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  1. grolby

    Evans has been inspiring to watch since his World Championship win – he really does seem to have transformed into a bolder, yet also savvier rider (his win at Fleche last year epitomizes the change.

    And speaking of the World Championship, he acquitted himself well in his title defense on home roads, on a course that didn’t really suit his style. He was one of the animators of the race. Cadel Evans!

    It’s worth pointing out that the transformation doesn’t just coincide with his winning the rainbow jersey, but also with his transfer to BMC from an outfit that didn’t seem to much appreciate or understand him, and where, by all indications, he was deeply unhappy.

    Yeah, some of that may have been Evans’ fault, and maybe his move to BMC was also inspired by the rainbow jersey, a fresh start with an organization that wouldn’t let the accumulated frustrations of the past couple years interfere with his transformation into a more interesting, self-assured rider.

  2. sophrosune

    I agree with this assessment. There has been a marked change in his character both during and after the races. But I still can’t help but wonder whether being on a relatively weak team will continue to hamper his grand tour aspirations, which appear to be just the TdF this year. For all his character building, he did sound a bit whiny last year during the tour and his lackluster performance. He’s a powerful rider but it’s still not clear whether he has the goods for a three-week stage race.

  3. Champs

    The rainbow jersey transformed him, but note that he got there racing with the Australian team, not Lotto, the team that obviously wasn’t supporting him (they even let Popo sign elsewhere) even as they agreed to extend his contract. McEwen was winning in those days, but mostly freelancing, and they also had the lanterne rouge Where was the rest of that team at the Tour, while its captain was making the podium on his own?

    Lotto’s tradition continues: Gilbert wins with solo attacks, and Greipel is taking much less of the low hanging fruit than in years past, but the High Road train keeps delivering victories.

  4. randomactsofcycling

    The rainbow stripes certainly seem to have helped Cadel finally realise that he is at the top of his profession.
    I think what was lacking in the past was a little self confidence. When you are questioning your own ability and a little luck doesn’t go your way it is easy to come across as petulant. And but for a crash and a broken bone in his arm at last year’s Tour, perhaps we’d have seen the World Champ contesting the podium for the first time in a long time.
    What I love the most about Cadel is watching him suffer! As unkind as it may sound, when he’s climbing at the limit and he looks terrible – well isn’t that how it’s supposed to look?

  5. Stuart

    I’ve been reading the book of Cadel Evans, and have followed him since he first rode in the Tour de France. I must say I agree that the Rainbow has shone on Cadel and made him into the true professional rider he is now.

    I can only hope that now in his twilight years he can settle to win a Tour de France or wear one of the jerseys of the Tour and make his mark as one of the worlds best riders in the sport of cycling.

  6. Artful dodger

    The great talent has always been there. I think the pressure cooker blew at the 2009 TdF. Lotto pulled his “Captain” badge and changed their GC role on him. A kick in the guts for any sportsman. If any of us have truely followed his career he has always had that nuggety,mongrel dog fighter in him. I think BMC have re-invigorated the Cadel Evans that we watch in awe on insanely,hideous gradients. Grinding the big ring with crippling,agonizing regularity. You can smell the burn in those arms and legs. Sweet success to Cadel and BMC in 2011.

  7. mabtas

    sophrosune: “he did sound a bit whiny last year during the tour and his lackluster performance”

    That’s a pretty harsh assessment on someone who rode 12 stages with a broken elbow.

  8. Souleur

    well said Robot

    I agree w/Champs comment which is true, partly his move to a team that in union w/him is most helpful.

    At Lotto, their aim despite what they said was never aligned to win a Tour or any grand tour for that matter, but to win in Belgium. Why Cadel went their is confusing, but now he is a happier man because of the synergy that exists within his team.

    He indeed has come of age

    Now, will he win the maillot juane? ever?
    How about the maglia rosa??
    the Vuelta??

  9. Flahute

    I definitely used to be a Cadel-detractor … but to give the man props, he certainly did the stripes proud last year, and succeeded in changing my opinion; and he’s continuing to do so this year without the stripes.

    Good on ya, Cadel. You’ve made a fan out of me.

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  11. Jeremy

    totally with you on the above–I’m a cadel fan and last year was great to watch, as well a T-A this year–but all that being said, the man is g-d awful at victory salutes. At least he took his hands off the bars this time, although it still looked like he was wondering whether he left the gas on rather than claiming victory.

  12. Adam

    I never understand criticism of Cadel. Think how you’d feel if you were the strongest rider in a grand tour and lost it due to a wheel change, and saw gold ride up the road on the shoulders of Valv Piti. Then the year he’s second in the Tour to Contador, you can’t argue that Contador didn’t benefit and gain precious seconds from teaming up with a now suspended Rasmuesen in the mountains.
    The guy has simply always been up there in the major races his whole career, racing against riders clearly doped. Wiggins or VandeVelde get fourth in the Tour once and get lauded on while Cadel’s actually had more TdF success than the entire Garmin team has managed to ever get.
    He was great in Mendriso, but he’s always been great.

  13. Armybikerider

    I became a Cadel fan on Stage 7 of the 2010 Giro when he won the mudfest on the “strade bianche.” His celebration when crossing the finish line was classic Evans – awkward at best, but his shelled face and mudspattered rainbow jersey said it all.

  14. spokenwheel

    that is a very harsh assessment of Evans. He didn’t have great team support on OPhL but yet he was always up there in the results.

    He finished the TdF with a broken elbow. He lost the Vuelta because of ineptness (or sabatoge) of the ‘neutral support’.

    If you don’t like him, that is fine. But to call him a wheelsucker when the whole peloton suckwheels at every chance they get is just absurd.

    I thought he was a great talent before his Rainbow Jersey.

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