As the first Australian winner of the Tour de France (2011) and a Member of the Order of Australia recipient for his service to cycling and the community, Cadel Evans is one of Australia’s most celebrated sportspeople. Here, he shares some of the hurdles he had to overcome to be the best in international cycling.
He wasn’t an instant sporting success
Australian sport is suited to early developers. You have to throw, run, kick, be fast and tall. Sport wasn’t very encouraging for me and I developed late at high school. I fell into cycling, fortunately. When I found cycling I discovered that success breeds motivation and I’ve followed that. As a father I encourage my children to try as many sports and activities as possible so they can discover their talent. I think everyone in the world has a talent and some are lucky enough to find out what that talent is – art, music, mathematics or endurance sport. It’s only by trying these experiences that we learn about them.
His independence made him resilient
To be a success you need to be able to support yourself, train well, prepare and go to the important races around the world. You also have to keep that momentum going. I see a lot of young riders who are pampered, but they learn difficult lessons later on. The best riders in my sport were the ones that had a hard road to get there. Whether it’s learning about organisation, tolerance or dealing with people or difficult conditions, they’re able to come back better when things go wrong. I knew a 28-year-old rider who’d never pumped his own tyres. When things got too much he couldn’t deal with them. I’m an only child from a single parent family – Mum never pumped up my tyres.
He made a lot of sacrifices to be the best
Australians have to go and live in Europe to succeed in international cycling. There’s an elimination phase. Only the very best and strong willed stay in the sport. Many times I would go to the airport in January, give my mum a hug and say ‘I’ll see you in October’. It takes a lot for cyclists to live overseas, away from family. We have to learn another language and a new way of living. There’s a natural selection process.
He needed unbreakable focus and faith in himself
When I was injured later in my career people lost faith in me quickly. When your team loses faith in you it’s really hard to turn that around, but you have to back yourself and have support. In my case the most important people were my wife, physiotherapist and coach. Maybe if they weren’t there I would have questioned whether I wanted to go on or not. I watched my first Tour de France in 1991, I rode my first in 2005 and I won my only Tour de France in 2011. It’s a long process.
Some of his biggest hurdles were psychological
When I’d come second twice in the Tour de France, everyone – no matter what I did or where I went – stopped and asked, ‘Can you win the Tour de France this year?’ When I went to buy some milk and people were asking about the Tour de France, it became something I had to insulate myself from mentally. Being on the bike is the nicest part of the job. I’d go out for a five-hour training ride on my own and resolve problems. I’d have the rest of my week mapped out and come to realisations because I’d had time to reflect.
He had to manage his celebrity status
In my career I was conditioned for life outside of cycling. When elite athletes get to the top it can be hard to stay there – all of a sudden you become like a celebrity. As a sportsperson you might not be conditioned to this. A celebrity lifestyle isn’t very good for a sportsperson because you have to go and train. The consistency of training is what helps you perform well – not being in the newspaper.
Deakin University is naming rights sponsor of the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race women’s event.
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