World championship triumph shared amongst the troops
Cadel Evans' victory in Mendrisio on Sunday afternoon was the product of an equally strong performance from his national teammates, who set the Australian up in the closing laps of the 262km event.
The Australian team had come close before; in 2002, Robbie McEwen's silver medal behind Italy's Mario Cipollini in Zolder was the best result hitherto for the green and gold.
Australian selectors sent arguably the most balanced team to Mendrisio, with the likes of experienced campaigners Mat Hayman, Michael Rogers, Stuart O'Grady and Adam Hansen joining forces with young stars Wes Sulzberger, Matt Lloyd and Simon Clarke to help co-captains Simon Gerrans and Evans in their shot at the title.
Seasoned directeur sportif Neil Stephens called the shots from the car, as he has done for several years, and paid tribute to the teamwork of his riders after the win.
"We knew it was going to be a really hard race today. Matty Hayman really took charge of the early stage of the race along with Wes Sulzberger and Simon Clarke. He knew we had a certain amount of firepower, we knew when we had to use it and how we had to use it," said Stephens.
"Then it was up to those guys. Michael Rogers being with the front group was a crucial part of the race. Then going into the final laps with Cadel, Simon Gerrans and Matthew Lloyd they really topped it off."
Evans acknowledged that he thought the race may have ended differently had the big escape group - containing Rogers - stayed away. "When the big group went with Michael [Rogers] I thought, 'Michael's going to be the one to make our result today,'" he explained.
That group didn't stay away and it was up to the Australians to switch to the appropriate plan. Stephens explained that it required some calm thinking and calculated action. "At two laps to go, at less than 30 kilometres to go , I thought we'd really blown it. We'd spent out bikkies (biscuits), the last of our workers, Wes, was gone, our leaders were there and the break was still a minute and 50 seconds down," said Stephens.
"I said to the guys just keep your cool and see how it pans out and things really turned around for us. So we went from the high of really good work to the low of thinking we wouldn't get there and then to the high once again of having Cadel Evans putting on the rainbow jersey at the finish line."
While the accolades went to Evans, the significance of riding with the likes of Rogers, Hayman and co wasn't lost on the winner, who has suffered plenty of highs and lows of worlds campaigns with the Australian team.
"Being with the Aussies and seeing them out there... especially because I've sort of grown up with most of the guys here - some of them younger, some of them older - is great," said Evans. "I remember racing with Mat Hayman as an Under 23 or racing with Mick [Rogers] as an Under 23, going to races years ago together.
"It's been a lot of work in the making and for it all to come together today... to get the jersey is really something."
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