After seven World Championship medals as a cyclist - all of them as a mountain biker, and none of them gold - Cadel Evans finally completed his collection in Mendrisio on Sunday, winning a seven-hour war of attrition to be crowned road race World Champion.
Evans attacked his two breakaway companions, Alexandr Kolobnev (Russia) and Joaquin Rodriguez (Spain), at the foot of the final climb, and sped alone to an emotional solo victory. As he crossed the finish line his celebrations were muted - one hand off the bars, and a kiss to one grandstand, then the other - but he broke down as soon as he came to a halt, and held his wedding ring, which he wears on a chain around his neck, to his mouth.
"On the climb, I realised I could do it," said Evans, who failed this year to build on two consecutive second places in the Tour de France and finished 30th. Third in the Vuelta a Espana, which finished last Sunday, indicated that his form had returned, but few would have bet on him to win a race that the Spanish and Italians - going for their fourth consecutive victory - seemed set to dominate.
"I had two big problems this year," said Evans, "and not much luck. But today I was lucky. I was feeling good, and my legs were very good. Today the luck was with me."
He didn't elaborate on what his two big problems were, though one, he revealed, was an illness he suffered on the eve of the Tour de France. "For me it was very emotional," he said of the finish. "The course is 3km from my house, from what is my home-away-from-home for nine months of the year, when I'm not in Australia."
Of his race winning move, he said, "Spain had the numbers [in the selection of nine that formed on the final lap]. Italy only had one. If one Spanish guy's away, no one was going to chase him down. So that's why when Spain made a move [with Rodriguez's attack before the final climb] I made sure I was there."
It was put to Evans that his success represents "a victory for clean cycling," to which he shrugged, "Well, it's not my responsibility to comment on these things. I'm happy that I was [at the] top [of the podium] today. I've been criticised [by the press]. You can never win. But today I've got gold."
"I've been thinking about this race for two years," he said. "I had some obstacles to overcome this year, mostly leading into the Tour. I was ill going into the Tour, so I couldn't be as competitive as I'd have liked. But straight after the Tour, I began preparing for the Vuelta and for today. It's taken a lot of work."
He admitted that Swiss favourite Fabian Cancellara, going for the time trial and road race double on home roads, had been a big threat - perhaps the big threat. "We saw him in Beijing [when he put in a late effort to catch the breakaway, and claim bronze in the Olympic road race], so I was sure he'd make it to the finish [at the front]. But during the race, I saw where his strengths and weaknesses were on the circuit, while I was riding my own race."
As Evans noted, Australia, where the championships will be held next year, is currently flying high in world of cycling. "We're ranked third in the world at the moment," he said, "even though cycling is not part of our culture. But in the last three or four years, there's been a huge growth in interest in the Tour de France. I'm very proud to win the first world road championship for my country."
A few seconds later, he corrected that to "first senior winner", in recognition of Jack Bobridge's win in the Under 23 time trial World Championship on Wednesday. But Evans also acknowledged that he will not be a favourite next year, when the championships are staged in Geelong, close to his other home, on a circuit that is unlikely to suit him.
Not that he was thinking, on Sunday evening, of next year. "Coming second so often is demoralising," he said. "I always look ahead to the future, and the possibility of winning.
"But at this point," he added, "I'm not sure of next year's objectives."
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