Just one day after a quote in the Sydney Morning Herald sparked a debate on the value of the national championships, Australia's most decorated professional cyclist, Cadel Evans, was given a warm reception by more than a thousand spectators during the sign-in at the 2014 Cycling Australia National Road Race Championships in Ballarat today.
"It's quite exciting," said the former Australian MTB national champion. "Most people seem to be happy to have me here, and it's so nice to be welcomed by everyone. I can't say I'm going to get an easy run from Drapac and Orica-GreenEdge of course."
Evans, the 2009 UCI World Champion and 2011 Tour de France winner, is just one name in a stacked field that includes Simon Gerrans, Matthew Lloyd, Rohan Dennis, last year's winner Luke Durbridge, and rival Richie Porte, to make this one of the most heavily contested – and anticipated – Australian national championships in history.
Numbers will be against Evans as the only BMC rider in the race who has never won the national road race title and returns to the championships after a nine-year hiatus. Both GreenEdge and Drapac will race en masse with GreenEDGE fielding 12 riders from its WorldTour squad including both the two previous winners Durbridge and Gerrans (2012), while recently licensed Pro-Continental team Drapac had 13 riders on the start line, including 2007 national champion Darren Lapthorne.
"I‘ve always been here on my own," said Evans. "That's been my biggest difficulty and that's the same today. But now we have a WorldTour team in Australia a good continental team in Drapac. I just have to be realistic about these things. I'm hopelessly outnumbered but it doesn't mean I can't have a go."
Evans says that everyone's expectations, including his own, have to be realistic when looking at a win. "Its funny when you win the Worlds or the Tour de France everyone expects you to win the biggest races in the world every time you step on a bike," he said. "But the human body doesn't work like that. I am in the build-up period now and hopefully I will be able to utilise today's race and hope to build up to what I hope is going to be a great 2014."
Evans says unlike the Tour with uphill finishes, individual time trials and three weeks of utilising the use of other teams, one-day races like the Road Nationals are much more difficult when a rider is alone.
"I suspect the number one thing for Drapac and GreenEdge is not to let me go on a break straight away," he said. "That cancels out probably the best option for me to do something is in terms of winning the race. If I am behind and they let someone away I can't close the gap on my own with all of them on the wheel. For that reason here on this course the numbers are against me. If it were an uphill finish on the Alpe d'Huez or Galibier I am sure I could do things differently but that's not the case today."
Up next for Evans, who followed Porte's lead by signing the Amy Gillett Foundation "A Metre Matters" safety petition, will be the Tour Down Under in Adelaide for the opening of the WorldTour season. Evans will again face off with Porte at the TDU before their uber-hyped showdown at the Giro d'Italia in May.
"I've had a pretty solid build-up to this year," said Evans. "Obviously starting at the Tour Down Under as well and I would like to open up my points account early. I've had an up and down December and today maybe gives me a bit of a sign on how my training is going and is an important step toward the Tour Down Under and of course on to the Giro."