Long before Cadel Evans (BMC) was winning the Tour de France (2011) and UCI World Road Race Championship (2009), the 37-year-old native of Australia's Northern Territory was carving up the Queensland countryside as a junior on a 26-inch cross country mountain bike with reckless abandon.
With the return of the UCI MTB World Cup to Cairns on April 25-27, Evans told Cyclingnews that he has fond memories of his mountain biking days before pointing his career toward the pavement.
"I follow [the World Cup] with interest because it brings back a lot of memories for me as the 1994 UCI Mountain Bike World Cup was my first international race as a cyclist," said Evans. "Also the '96 world championships, which of course I remember. It was a while ago, but it's great to see history come around again and for me, it's a little bit nostalgic."
Evans, who would go on to win the UCI MTB World Cup in both 1998 and 1999, raced the '94 event as a junior finishing fifth in the process and thus started a rather unique tradition.
"That year was the first time we had a senior elite race in Australia," said Evans. "I placed fifth, and while I was still a junior at the time I was allowed to enter the race as it was also a part of our Australia national series.
"On that occasion because I was Australian, even though I was a junior and got fifth, they decided to put five on the podium and that started the tradition, which in the end became something very useful for the sponsors of the sport of mountain biking as it gave more publicity to more teams and made it - from exposure point of view - very important."
Two years later, the UCI returned to Cairns, with Evans placing second in the under 23s behind Italian Dario Acquaroli and in front of Frenchman Miguel Martinez — a race that Sydney Morning Herald's Rupert Guinness, author of The Tour: Behind the Scenes of Cadel Evans' Tour De France, remembers humorously.
"I can remember Cadel making his way to the press conference after the race and mistakenly sitting in the winner's chair," Guinness told Cyclingnews. "Although he was second, it was a sign of things to come and proof Cadel was a winner at heart and would go on to great things both on the mountain bike and on the road."
Not since Canberra in 2008 has Australia hosted a UCI Mountain Bike World Cup round with the capital city hosting World Championships the next year.
This year more than 400 of the best Olympic cross country, downhill, eliminator and marathon riders in the sport of mountain biking will descend on Cairns for what is being heralded as the "Rumble in the Rainforest" over some of the very same World Heritage-listed courses Evans rode last in 1996.
"My mountain bike career had an interesting influence on my road career," said Evans, who lines up for the start of the 38th edition of the four-day Giro del Trentino on Tuesday, April 22, alongside fellow Grand Tour winners Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky), Ivan Basso (Cannondale) and Michele Scarponi (Astana), before setting his sights on the Giro d'Italia in May where Evans finished third last year.
"How I trained and what I learned on the mountain bike I brought to the road and as I raced on the road, road cycling changed and what I learned and practiced as a mountain bike rider now nearly everyone does as road cyclist," said Evans.
"Now road cycling is prepared with the specific training, the equipment preparation, and nutrition. Everything is exactly as it was when I was a mountain bike rider."
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