As Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) readies for the final races of his career, the 37-year-old winner of the 2011 Tour de France and 2009 World Championship reflected on his first trip to nationals in Thredbo in 1992 and how the sport has changed over the past 20-plus years.
"I suppose I'm looked at in a different regard by the cycling public now, which is somewhat larger than it was in 1992," the 37-year-old said. "I'm going to Ballarat to ride the best race I can. If I get a result, that's even better. I'm going there to race well and do my best."
Evans witnessed firsthand just how much the sport has grown during last year's Australian championships, when he finished second on the Buninyong course behind Simon Gerrans.
"What was remarkable, and my greatest memory of the race, was when we were riding near the top of the climb and it had the ambiance of a big European race," he said. "There was a real passion for the racing, people were happy to be out there, it was a beautiful day, and they had created a unique ambiance in a one-day race right there in Ballarat.
"Compliments to Ballarat for being a host city and being a supporter of cycling."
Evans is keen to go out with another Australian championship, although the success he has found since his first attempt in 1992 could make the task all the more difficult, a fact he acknowledged this week.
“Today the chances of victory are probably the same as in 1992, maybe even less, because I’m so watched now as a rider,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to win the road race at the national championships, but I’m just realistic about it. I’m going to be the most watched guy out there.
In Rohan Dennis and neo-pro Campbell Flakemore, Evans will have just two teammates in the road race, while Orica-GreenEdge is bringing nine. Nevertheless, the course suits Evans well.
"It's a solid course but the climb is still a fair way from the finish," Evans said. "But at this time of year 183 kilometers on that course is a hard race. It’s going to be a solid day on the bike. If I go in and have a hard race but don’t get a result, well, it's good training towards the Tour Down Under. But if I can race hard and get a result, that’s even better."
A win this week and another championship jersey would provide a storybook ending for Evans' career, but he said this week that he doesn't believe in "fairytales."
"We just have to be realistic about these things," he said. "We'll prepare as well as we can, do the best race we can, and the result will tell the story."