What got you into bikes/cycling in the first place?
Inspiration is a funny thing. It can strike you at any time, for any reason and in millions of different ways. For some people it’ll be the freedom that something can give them or the exposure to either the softness or the hardness of the elements. It may be the grandeur of what’s around them or the feeling that your surroundings supply to you. It may be the rush, the danger or the comfort that a particular activity can provide or simply by doing something faster or better you may feel that you’ve asserted your place in the world. For me, the spark that first got me into bikes, is a little of all those notions but one thing sticks in my mind more than anything else – the first time I was conscious of thinking, I really want to ride my bike like that – was whilst watching a little known Australian rip the mountain bike racing world apart on a little blue Cannondale.
His name was, and of course still is, Cadel Evans and he was racing for what was known affectionately as The Big White Machine at the time. Volvo-Cannondale was the team to be on in the late nineties. With riders of the likes of Anne-Caroline Chausson, Cedric Gracia, Nicolas Vouliouz, Brian Lopes, Alison Sydor and Christophe Sauser it was an all-star cast, but the surprise package for a lot of people was the young, short, underweight Aussie whose actions were speaking louder than his words.
His inspiration, as a boy of fourteen living near Melbourne, was pleasure – he rode his bike “because it looked fun”. When he progressed he found it even more fun and began to dream of riding the Tour de France. In those days saying that, coming from where Cadel came from, would be like you or I saying that we wanted to be Astronauts! It took weeks or months for news of the glamorous European racing scene to reach the outback, but Cadel would hoover up information from any newspaper, magazine or book that he could lay his hands on. He’d study what clothing and bikes the pros were using and then replicate that style as closely as he could back home.
He joined the Fat Tyre Fliers Mountain Bike Club at the age of fifteen and raced a little on the road under the watchful eye of his coach, Ted Grundy, who is still a close friend today and has played various roles in Cadel’s development over the years. By ’95 Evans was part of the Australian Institute of Sport MTB team and as a junior got to race in America and in Europe – “I really liked the travel aspect of it. To me that was part of being a pro rider and living the lifestyle,” he said.
As part of the Diamondback squad, whilst technically still a junior, he raced his first Senior Elite World Cup race. At one stage of the race it looked as though he may win, but everyone was shocked simply by the fact that he ended up 5th. In respect of his incredible performance the podium was extended to include fourth and fifth place and Cadel beamed as he stood in front of his peers, re-writing mountain bike history. The UCI mountain bike World Cup still celebrates the top five places on the podium in present day races due to Cadel’s inspirational achievement as a junior.
He won a bronze medal the following year at the under 23 World Champs. He also placed ninth at the inaugural Olympic Cross Country race, but was frustrated by both results, knowing that he was capable of beating at least the majority of the riders who’d bested him in both events. This passion is what still fires him today and is the same yearning that riders at all levels feel. It is the thing that links all industrious or purposeful human beings – the will to improve oneself.
In ’97 Cadel had his first world cup overall in the bag, but agonisingly his team sent him to race in America thereby missing the final two races and forfeiting the crystal globe. He finished 3rd, behind his nemesis for the next few years, Miguel Martinez. It was no surprise then in ’98 when Volvo-Cannondale came knocking, Evans was keen to step on board. And that’s just about where I come in!
I was fifteen, when Cadel was nineteen, which at the time meant that he was a grown-up! But he wasn’t too old that I couldn’t associate with him and ultimately idolise him. He wasn’t just racing world cups he was winning them. At one point he had the Under-23 red leaders jersey and the overall Elite blue leaders jersey – it hadn’t been considered what would happen in this circumstance and unbeknown to Cadel the UCI had planned to let the 2nd place under-23 ride in the red jersey at the next race, but Volvo-Cannondale called everyone’s bluff when Cadel turned up on practice day with a custom one-off harlequin blue and red jersey, a wry tip of the hat from Cadel and his team and yet another reason in my book why he was the best in the world.
He proved his dominance by obliterating the results sheet throughout ’98 and ’99. He won with panache and gusto, words usually saved to describe big Belgian road racers, but somehow they fitted in with the diminutive Aussies style just as much. Many racers have come and gone since and of course Cadel inspires millions of riders including myself, on the road, but there will always be a special place in my soul reserved for the unlikely Australian who has given me an honest, strong, likable and passionate reason to be inspired by mountain bikes, mountain bikers and indeed humans. Whilst many of his peers have turned to performance enhancers to try and beat him in both cross-country and on the road he seems to have stayed true. He has his critics, but this is true of any man who works hard and excels at something – they only serve to make him better in my opinion. I hope I can always say such good words about Cadel. There have been a constant cycle of role models of late to be shown as little more than cheats at the end of the day, but I’ve always have a good feeling about Cadel.
On top of all of this I guess that one of the most inspiring things about Cadel Evans is that he’s no hero, nor is he a daredevil or a show off. Whether he’s wearing a harlequin jersey, a world champion jersey or a yellow one, he’s just always working bloody hard at being real. He doesn’t suffer fools and he’s not afraid to speak his mind because he is passionate about what he does. And he makes time for charities and his family and friends when other riders will be making a performance in the public eye. He’s not just a good role model for bike racing; he’s a pretty good role model for anyone worth their salt in my book!
If you had to ask me for a picture (or an image in my head) to describe my love of mountain biking it would be thus; Two riders, one closely tucked in behind the other, hurtling downhill toward you with elbows wide and a bellowing dust cloud behind them. The one behind is small and darkly tanned and will take his advantage on the climb, but the rider in front is the star of the show. The little blue F800 skips around underneath him, the yellow guard on the fatty headshok working overtime as his XTR groupset likewise provides him with the machinery needed to stay ahead of the game after an hour and a half of accumulated sweaty grim and dust thinly covers both man, machine and white Volvo-Cannondale jersey. The gap between the rest of the race and the two man group may as well be forever because that is how much better Martinez and Evans appeared to be at the time and looking back at the results sheets today, I have no reason to doubt my memories!