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On the eve of one the most anticipated national road race championships in Australian cycling history, social media was set abuzz following a head-to-head Q&A between pre-race favourites and soon-to-be Giro d'Italia rivals, Cadel Evans and Richie Porte, in an article published in the Sydney Morning Herald.
Journalist Rupert Guinness posed 15-questions to both Evans and Porte covering a wide range of topics, including the Giro d'Italia, Tour de France and this weekend's National road race championships.
Evans' response to what it would mean for him to be the national champion caused a Twitter stir.
Australia's first – and only – Tour de France champion stated: "I suppose I would be obliged to wear a national champion's jersey for the year" and that as a professional his aim is to get WorldTour points, so other than the jersey, in the grand scheme of things, "it doesn't count for much."
In contrast to the 2009 UCI World Champion, Porte answered by saying that earning the green and gold stripes would be "absolutely brilliant" and that wearing the "distinctive jersey" would make for a "very special year" training and racing in Europe.
The fallout was immediate, with tweets questioning Evans' patriotism and character. Evans' manager Jason Bakker, however, came to the defense of Evans by tweeting "What a load of rubbish" in regards to those questioning his patriotism and that Evans possesses "enormous national pride." Bakker had a further dig at Evans' critics by saying "hang, draw and quarter him on a comment."
In response to speculation over Evans’ patriotism, Guinness defended Evans when talking to Cyclingnews.
"People that know Cadel would know that he’s always proud about wearing the Australian jersey. He’s worn it in Olympic Games and World Championships. In fact he won a world championship in the Australian jersey. He’s always been proud of wearing the jersey."
"I understand the point that Cadel was trying to make was to decipher the difference between the national championships and a WorldTour race, which is the Tour Down Under, and the fact that there are points which are important to individuals and their teams who pay their wages."
Guinness, who authored "Le Tour, a behind-the-scenes account of Evans’ Tour de France win in 2011, concluded: "I think that while Cadel said what he said, his pride in representing Australia is as strong as it has ever has been."
Besides Evans and Porte, Rohan Dennis, Matthew Lloyd and defending champion Luke Durbridge of Orica-GreenEdge, along with teammate and 2012 champion Simon Gerrans, all will contest the Australian men’s road race national championship as pre-race favourites before opening the 2014 UCI WorldTour at the Tour Down Under in Adelaide on January 19.