Biggest moments of 2011 #5 Pedal Cadel, Pedal!
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.
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.
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…