"I'm sorry I didn't win it," says Evans
By Gerard Knapp
Cadel Evans' feat of becoming the first Australian cyclist to make the final general classification podium of the Tour de France has received wide coverage in his home country, with the country's mass media running high-profile stories that focused on his achievements at the Tour, rather than the doping issues that grabbed the headlines in the previous week.
The vision of Evans humbly apologising for his second place on GC - "I'm sorry I didn't win it," he told television reporters after the final stage into Paris - has received wide exposure throughout the country. Indeed, newsreaders on the country's largest TV network were suggesting Evans' performance could be the catalyst for an Australian ProTour team in Europe. "It's the next logical step," said one.
While Evans is not the first Australian to be on the podium in Paris - Baden Cooke and Robbie McEwen have both won the green jersey competition - it is his overall achievement on GC that has made headlines.
His fellow cyclists have been warm in their praise, with the CEO of Cycling Australia, Graham Fredericks, also predicting it will help the fuel sport's strong growth in the country.
"Australian cycling is extremely proud of the achievement of Cadel Evans to be the first Australian to finish on the podium of what is the ultimate event in road cycling," Fredricks said. "No doubt this will further the growth of cycling in Australia."
The other Australian in the TdF who was seen as a hope for the overall classification, Mick Rogers (T-Mobile), speaking from his home in Italy where he is recovering from his injuries in the eighth stage of the Tour on July 15, said Evan's second-place "has once again confirmed his class to the world".
Rogers was actually the maillot jaune virtuel when he crashed heavily on a descent in stage 8 and dislocated his shoulder. Rogers said, Cadel "has made steady progress in the past few years and will be the man to beat next year.
"Having an Australian finish on the podium in the Tour de France is a huge leap ahead for the sport of cycling in Australia," he added.
Evan's team-mate in Predictor-Lotto, the sprinter Robbie McEwen, who was also forced out of the Tour in the dreaded eighth stage, described Evans' performance as "a fantastic ride all the way through."
McEwen, a three-time winner of the points competition in the Tour de France, also returned home after missing the time cut in stage 8. Rather than abandoning, McEwen finished the stage but he'd fallen too far behind the leaders' winning time and was eliminated. While he's not a noted climber, McEwen had always managed to make the time cut on the tough mountain stages but this time he was off the pace, largely due to injuries he sustained in the very first road stage of Tour (which he won).
Speaking from a car on his way to the first of the 'post-Tour criteriums' (a series of lucrative circuit races held in various European cities that feature many of the stars of the TdF), McEwen thought his team-mate had put in a "brilliant effort."
McEwen said he observed Evans after the finish of the three-week race. "I think Cadel was a little disappointed to be so close yet so far, and he was looking at points where he could have done better, but really, hindsight's a terrible thing because he did fantastically well.
"His goal and the team's goal was to have him on the podium, so to finish second is a brilliant effort." While there has been speculation that Evans may have made the top step had he more support from his team in the mountains, McEwen said his understanding was that Evans was still contracted until next year and that ideally it would be good to have another rider to help him the mountains.
Indicative of the support for Evans in his home country, where viewers had to stay up until the wee hours of the morning to see the finish, was arguably the country's leading female track cyclist, world record-holder, Olympic and world champion in the 500m time trial, Anna Meares.
"I think it's really great for cycling and for Australian cycling in particular. Sport is always a great motivator because it unites people and I was one of those up late cheering him on during the time trial and other stages as well. I think it's really fantastic."
As for Evans, he said yesterday, "I think you may have to talk to me in a week when it really sinks in. My only regret is that I relied on other teams into Loudenvielle and lost 55 seconds to (eventual race winner Alberto) Contador. Now I think everyone understands why I was so frustrated."
It's likely that frustration will be focused into Evans' 2008 Tour de France effort, as the cyclist has already indicated he plans to return and win. Until then, he will relax for a couple of days before heading off on a camping trip with his wife.