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Cadel Evans is arguably the best, and most versatile, Australian cyclist of all time. He started out as a mountain-bike racer, winning the World Cup overall title in 1998 and 1999, at ages 21 and 22. He then switched to road racing and took a spate of major victories, including the world road race championship in 2009, and the Tour de France in 2011.
For the moment, Evans is the only Australian winner of the Tour de France. This year, Richie Porte is aiming to emulate him and become the second.
Evans retired from the sport in early 2015, but still attends races as an ambassador for his BMC, the sponsor of his last team. It is also Porte’s squad, giving the younger Australian the chance to learn from his nation’s greatest rider.
Evans was present at the start of this year’s Tour, gave an insight into his background, his character, his big victories and the most important life lessons he picked up along the way.
I was the only child from a single-parent family. My mother was my role model in life. She taught me a few things. One of those was that if you are going to do something, do it properly or don’t do it at all.
She also always used to say that everything should be done in a pattern. Perhaps she was talking about digging the garden or something, but finally I became very methodical.
Anything that seemed completely unmethodical to do, like riding in the peloton, I became methodical about it. The reason was that there are certain patterns that things follow. And when you pick up on these patterns, you can calculate them better.
So, I learned these little things from my mother when I was young and then I later realised that they really help me in sport.
Early on, I didn’t have much direction in my life. When I came into the world of cycling, I wasn’t at all disciplined. I wasn’t motivated or anything. Then cycling taught me everything about being disciplined, making sacrifices, about working with people and teamwork.
Most of all, it taught me about setting a goal and working for it. That was probably the biggest lesson.
The Tour de France is an example of that. A long, long, long time before anyone thought that I could ever do something at the race, perhaps 10 years before my debut there, I had set myself some goals for that event.
Subconsciously this was in the back of my mind. Every day I got up and went out on my bike. Having that long-term goal meant that I had this drive behind me.
Everything that was doing brought me one day closer to getting towards that point in the Tour.
Breaking that down to smaller components, you set your goals for the season. Perhaps you have three goals for the year, but to get to each of those goals you set a series of smaller targets. Then you can break things down further towards what you do each week towards that goal, each day towards that goal, even each hour on the bike.
The benefit is that if you are saying, ‘I want to do such and such a result at the Tour de France,’ it is a bit overwhelming. Instead, it was the case of, ‘okay, today my goal is to do X, because that is the best thing I can do to help me towards that long-term target.’ That’s a better approach.
As a rider I had to make a lot of sacrifices. I’m not saying that it is easy to make it as a professional today, but in the 90s I was the first professional cross-country mountain biker from my country.
Precisely because I had to make these big sacrifices, I was determined to do things properly. I was going to do the very best I could. I basically just put my entire life on hold to do whatever training was needed, to make whatever sacrifices were necessary.
I moved to the other side of the world. I gave up my life to be the best I could in the sport. And that is why that when the day came to stop, I felt … not so much relieved, but I felt satisfied because I had worked so hard. I didn’t have any regrets that I hadn’t sacrificed enough for my sport.
I learned a lot of things from winning the Tour de France. Probably the most amazing of those — it is something that actually still amazes me today — is how far the reach of the Tour is.
I have been to Nepal and Thailand and people ask me, ‘can I have a photo with you?’ It just seems bizarre. But the reach of the Tour goes so very far. It is not every day that people meet a winner of the Tour de France, and they are often quite struck by it.
I guess that changes the way people treat you. I am not sure whether that is for the better or worse, but it has certainly changed my life.
Before the Tour win, winning the world championship was also important. It changed things within the world of cycling, although winning the Tour goes far beyond that.
What being world champion did was change cycling’s perception towards me. For me, things were more or less the same, although it was a stamp of approval for myself.
Everything comes to an end, and I retired from professional cycling in early 2015. I learned a lot from that too. My recommendation would be that you would be better to do it sooner rather than later. I personally think it is highly underrated! I’ve been enjoying it.
Outside cycling, I’ve an interest in Nepal. I was there as I sponsor a Tibetan child to go to school, and so on. It is one of the places furthest away from cycling that I have been to. But even there, they know what the Tour de France is.
That’s particularly the case at this school that I work with, the Manasarovar Academy. It is in the Tibetan part of Kathmandu. They follow the Tour de France avidly. It was amazing that the people knew what the race was and were watching; it really is quite a different world that we are living in here in Europe or in Australia.
It amazed me that even there, there are people who are watching and who know what the Tour de France is. That was unexpected because it is a very different world than the world we are living here in Europe or in Australia.
What I’ve learned from being in Nepal is that we have got so many things in our life that don’t matter there. If they have got a roof over their head and their family is healthy, then they are happy. It changes your perspective for sure.