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
If you’ve raced bicycles before then you’ve probably had the experience of multiple near misses at a race before scoring the big V. In this, you have something in common with Cadel Evans. Gloat now. Right now. You, I and the rest of the mortal world won’t get too many chances to share something in common with the current World Champion beyond such basics as peeing standing up (apologies to the women readers). With three top-10 finishes to his credit he knew how the final kilometer could go wrong even for the very strongest of riders.
Patience isn’t a word that anyone ever uses in conjunction with a Spring Classic. Appropriate tags for a Spring Classic are ‘attack,’ ‘limit,’ ‘suffer,’ ‘blow up’ and ‘head down.’ And that’s where Evans’ tactical savvy and experience paid off for him today.
And while not much has been said, Chris Horner delivered another great ride to finish seventh, the second-best performance by an American at the race. Not bad for 38.
There were a number of riders who looked strong, strong enough to win the day. And that Caisse d’Epargne didn’t take the day was perhaps a bit of a surprise for them.
Valverde rode like it ought to be his race. Unfortunately, he was the only person thinking that.
Evans has often been criticized for not riding aggressively enough to win more races. And maybe he has lacked the killer instinct at times. The 2010 Fleche-Wallonne begs a question.
Did winning a World Championship actually teach Evans an important lesson about how to win? Even though the most common criticism is that he never seemed to attack, the great secret of Fleche-Wallonne is to wait to attack, to wait until you would have lost any other race. Just ask Alberto Contador.
With 500 meters to go Contador looked to have it in the bag. Unfortunately, our TVs are still not equipped with Sony’s patented “Lactic-acid-ometer” to show us just how close to blowing a rider really is. Of course, the difference between insanely hard and completely done is about four watts.
The images are in sequence and encompass only the final trip up the Mur de Huy. It’s amazing to watch how short a distance Evans needs to close the gap to Contador and Igor Anton, all the while holding off Joaquim Rodriguez.
Alternate theory: Evans is still getting it wrong, but now he’s just getting the curse of the rainbow jersey wrong and he’s winning instead of losing. Imagine the shock Contador experienced when he noticed the rider passing him was Evans.
Images: John Pierce, Photosport International.