Tens of thousands gather for a 'Cadelebration'
Tens of thousands of people, old and new to the world of cycling convened in the centre of Australia's southern capital, Melbourne, today to congratulate BMC's Cadel Evans on becoming the nation's first winner of the Tour de France.
Sporting his yellow jersey and full BMC team kit, with leg warmers to brace against the notorious Melbourne winter, Evans standing on stage in Federation Square seemed genuinely surprised at the reception he received from the crowd, what Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu described as a "Cadelebration".
"I could say I'm overwhelmed but that would be the understatement of this month, at least," Evans said interviewed before for the crowd.
Asked if the achievement of winning the Tour de France has changed him, Evans was self-deprecating.
"It still hurts to ride uphill," he chuckled. "I still ride every day when I'm not travelling around the world on a plane. Yes, certainly, it's changed a little bit."
On stage, Evans' was compared to other Australian sporting greats - Don Bradman (cricket), Dawn Fraser (swimming) while the man himself noted that the nation had managed to now tick off most of the world's major sporting boxes.
"For me still to become a professional cyclist and ride the Tour de France is an opportunity I don't want to take for granted while I'm still competitive," he said. "I've got a few good years left in me yet. I'm still young at heart and that's what matters the most."
Evans arrived back home on Thursday from Europe for a 70 hour trip dominated by media appearances and one very special "hug from mum". The 2009 World Champion said he was "happy to be able to give something back to everyone who's supported me and also honoured for everyone who's been so appreciative of it [Tour de France victory]."
Not a centimetre of spare space was available in Melbourne's Federation Square over an hour before the 34-year-old was scheduled to make an appearance on stage at the public reception, the crowd waving a mixture of ‘Yell for Cadel' and Australian flags. Evans meantime got on his bike and rode a short distance down St Kilda Road towards the Square, opposite the famous Flinders Street Station, flanked by 20 junior Victorian cyclists randomly chosen from the field of 180 entered in the 2011 Victorian Junior Road Championships held in Wangaratta over the weekend. Evans shook hands with many members of the crowd as he could, much like the scenes on the Champs Elysees in July.
"It was great to shake everyone's hands, but the Tour is just 11 months away, I've got some work ahead," he said. "Thank you, each and everyone of you, thank you, thank you so, so much. It's an honour to be here today."
Speaking on SBS television, Cycling Australia Chief Executive Graham Fredericks said: "This is a fantastic turn out today and Cadel should be very proud of what he's achieved and these people are here to acknowledge that. We knew a few would turn up but this is just incredible, it's overwhelming – fantastic recognition for Cadel."