What happened
Cleanskin Australian cyclist Cadel Evans had finished runner-up in both the 2007 and ’08 versions of the Tour de France. After a disappointing 26th in 2010, his hopes of ever winning the thing looked cooked. But the 34-year-old Victorian, who was born in the NT, finally tasted champagne and glory on the Champs Elysees on July 24, 2011.

That's pain… and we don't mean the French word for bread

Australians have been tuning in to SBS’s Tour coverage in increasing numbers in recent years, if only to watch glimpses of the French countryside flashing by while drooling over Gabriel Gaté’s delectable dishes.

This year we watched not just as interested onlookers but as fans. As mad barrackers for a gritty little Aussie giving it his all, in an event which is truly one of the grand fromages of world sport. It was a ratings bonanza for the “Soccer, Boobs and Soccer” network, with over five million watching in total and a whopping metro share audience of 32.6 per cent on the final stage.

But Cadel’s win wasn’t about anything so desperately unromantic as statistics. This was about guts. Evans hurled his $10,000 bike through the fields and mountains of France with incredible determination. His team was good, but not as good in the support role as some other teams. In the Alps he was isolated. It was all up to him. Yet somehow, he kept pace with Luxembourg’s Schleck brothers. Then came the time trial.

Unlike most stages, which are a race to the line, the time trial is a race against the clock. Evans is a time trial specialist. He had to make up 57 seconds. But could he do it? Of course he could. And bloody how.

The image of Evans hunched over the saddle hurtling through the streets of the former Winter Olympics host city of Grenoble trumped even the famous glass of champagne en route to Paris as the lasting image of the race. And when Evans wrapped up formalities in Paris the next day, a nation went silly. Not quite America’s Cup silly, but close enough.

What happened next
Australia went cycling mad. There were even reports that some mad drivers were enthusiastically beeping lycra-clad anonymous cyclists on Australian country roads instead of angrily beeping them to tell them to get out of the way.

To this day, bike stores report an increase in sales of both bikes and cycling merchandise. This didn’t happen with swimming or athletics squads after the Sydney Olympics, but it did after Cadel. It’s likely also that Cadel’s win accelerated the formation of the Greenedge team, the first Australian-backed team to race on cycling’s elite World Tour. Greenedge will compete in the 2012 Tour, although Evans will remain with his BMC team.

One unfortunate incident in the aftermath of the race came when blogger Mia Freedman pretty much said “who cares?” in her appearance on Nine’s Today show. She could hardly have offended more people if she’d said she hopes all puppies get cancer.

What we learned
We learned from the Mia Freedman backlash that Australians still pin an enormous amount of their own self-importance on the backs of those who strut the global sporting stage.

But more importantly, we learned what a great event Le Tour is, and what a great athlete Evans is. Cycling had always been a third tier sport in the Australian consciousness. It is now firmly on the second tier and climbing almost as tenaciously as Evans himself.

How The Punch covered it
Our first piece came from regular Punch contributor Dylan Malloch, in which he described his journey from critic to convert.

Hot on the pedals of Dylan came well-known cycling nut and occasional politician Kevin Andrews. He warned us nice and early that Aussies would be serious players in this year’s version of the world’s biggest bike race. Later, in a real eye-opener, he explained that our history in the race goes way back to the 12th running of the event.

Emma Jane stopped the love-in, arguing she was no fan of the Tour de Bifurcating Buttocks.

But by the time Evans won, it was time for big big love, which came in the form of my piece thanking Cadel for doing us all proud. That piece got 638 Facebook recommends, but was trumped by the 798 recommends for a piece by Simon Green entitled I’m a proud Aussie and I don’t give a stuff about sport.

Which presumably means that politics is the real sport on this website. All the same, Cadel’s win captivated thousands of you (and millions of Australians) and was a talking point on The Punch for weeks.

Most commented

14 comments

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    • Mahhrat says:

      05:36am | 19/12/11

      This one I’ll go with.  It is a fantastic story of what an individual can achieve when ably supported and when they want it bad enough.

      I don’t care for cycling (except my own rather inept attempts), but this is just a great and inspirational story of what you can do if you want it bad enough.

      I wish I could borrow this kind of determinations for just a year!

    • Beckala says:

      06:49am | 19/12/11

      The SBS coverage was outstanding! The montage they did on the final night using Coldplay’s “Every Teardrop” was one of my favourite tv moments of the year!

    • Jon says:

      07:24am | 19/12/11

      Yes please, more cycling less soccer!

    • ibast says:

      08:13am | 19/12/11

      A couple of years ago SBS were playing recordings of consumer complaints on air.  2 weeks into the TdF some older gentlemen rang up and complained that he’d had enough of the cycling and could they put more soccer on.

    • thankgodforSBS says:

      01:15pm | 19/12/11

      Yes please Jon , more cycling less soccer!  But maintain regular amounts of boobs.
      (Ducks incoming bile).  Cadel is a legend - followed Le Tour for years, SBS is a national treasure, PLEASE GOD dont let Le Tour slip to the commercial stations.  Anything good on the public broadcasters that is poached by the monied commercials turns to s—- very quickly.  Remember “The Fat”?  The original Good News Week?  Can u imagine the World Cup covered by Nine?

    • Eskimo says:

      02:29pm | 19/12/11

      SBS should broadcast the Lingerie Football League. Football & Boobs.

    • centurion48 says:

      08:34am | 19/12/11

      There are other cycling events that are covered which do not generate the same viewing audience as the Tour de France. The television coverage of Le Tour is top-notch documentary and every year is the same superb quality - although the segment by Gabriel Gate is something I would happily consign to the cutting room floor. The television production has the attributes to appeal to cyclists and their non-cycling partners. The same cannot be said for other television broadcasts of cycling, with or without Phil and Paul.
      The above is not meant to detract from Cadel’s performance, which was simply rivetting (if you are a cyclist) and recognisable as a huge sporting moment (even if you are not a cyclist). It is one above Stuart O’Grady’s win at Paris-Roubaix because it developed over a longer period - it was a campaign and not just an epic battle.
      Australia has world class cyclists on the track and the road, each of whom demonstrate the extra will to win when it counts. Bloody hell they make me proud.

    • Shane From Melbourne says:

      08:54am | 19/12/11

      A riot in London ranks less than some Australian winning a bicycle race?? Go figure…...

    • Lezza says:

      09:32am | 19/12/11

      A truly silly comment

    • Shane From Melbourne says:

      10:05am | 19/12/11

      @Lezza- Cadel winning the Tour De France ranks at #5 in the biggest moments of 2011 while the London Riots rank at #13. Care to explain what is so silly about my comment?

    • Kebabpete says:

      10:09am | 19/12/11

      It’s the biggest moments according to The Punch. You can rank them how ever you like.

      Personally, I would gladly rank Cadel’s efforts above a bunch of thugs with no point to prove other than to create random destruction and mayhem for no reason.

    • Occam's Blunt Razor says:

      01:18pm | 19/12/11

      Just wait till he goes back to back in 2012!

      (And his bike is worth probably +$20,000)

    • stephen says:

      05:36pm | 19/12/11

      Cadel should have won last year too.
      His team, though, did not - for whatever reason - give him the support he needed.

      I suspect that Lance Armstrong was so much a consistent winner of the TDF because he was an American and he had mainly an american team with him.
      (This is not to take anything away from Lance’s skill and qualities as an athlete.)

      Cadel’s teammates were mostly European, and I think - though I’m only guessing - if his team was made up of more Aussies, then next year’s Tour might be his 3rd or 4th possible win.

    • thankgodforSBS says:

      09:28am | 20/12/11

      spot on Stephen - Cadel would have at least 2 Tours to his name if he had the team support Armstrong had.  it makes his efforts over the last few years even more outstanding.  I still get goose-bumps recalling his chase-down of the Schleck-train last time over the mountains - phenomenal!  And then his time-trial!!  We knew he had then.
      I too have a sneaking suspicion that the Euro-favouritsm may, just may, have hindered his chances - perhaps its only natural, but a team of Australian cyclists would have seen Cadel home on more than one occassion.  I think the Lance factor and the home teamates also hindered the chances of the great Jan Ullrich in the late 90s early 2000s - one win and i think 3 runner-ups (later drug issues notwithstanding)

 

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