In the past ten years Australia has largely ignored what a champion cyclist Cadel Evans is. Focussed solely on the dream of thumping our collective chest at the first Australian to win the Tour de France, the blinkers have filtered all other prizes that Evans has collected, and truly the way he has conducted himself.
Cycling remains an incredibly misunderstood sport in a nation that refuses to let go of its expectations that its own competitors should fare no worse than victory. What most fail to grasp is that twice finishing second, four top ten finishes overall, six days in yellow overall, and stage victory is far more than most have won from the Tour. To dismiss Evans' record at this race is the same as saying Gary Ablett senior was not a champion footballer because he never won an AFL premiership; it's plainly not true.
Also in Evans' record is his wearing of the leaders jersey in both other Grand Tours, the overall points classification in the 2010 Giro d'Italia, his 2009 World Championship, his collection of overall stage race wins (including 2011's Tirreno-Adriatico), and a few one-day classics. I haven't even gone back to his efforts in mountain biking before he joined the professional cycling tour; truly a champion in the history of Australian cycling and probably beyond.
Cycling fans in this country have no problem accepting two other champions of the modern era in Robbie McEwen and Stuart O'Grady. Owing to different skill sets, their success has been without the burden of a country with eyes only for yellow. Yet Evans has done as much, and one (not I) may argue more, across more disciplines. Further people argue that O'Grady and McEwen are more likeable figures than Evans. In my eyes such a view is just snobbery. Evans is an individual, and isn't afraid of that, and like all should be accepted. He has had a few moments where he hasn't endeared himself, but he isn't alone. McEwen and Graeme Brown have the ability to carry on like children toward each other in even the most minor race.
Evans has broken free of the shackles that haunted him in 2009 up until the end of the Tour that year. So focussed was he that he saw utter dedication to winning the Tour as being the same as removing all flair and enjoyment from riding in favour of conservatism. His fight in the 2009 Vuelta and his World Championship attack was evidence of his talent and a returning love for the sport. Throughout 2010 and now in 2011 he has continued to compete and win with flair, his demeanour is calmer and his exertion on the bike more natural than ever. Most of all he isn't afraid to risk losing if it gives him a chance of winning.
Retired tomorrow Evans should be remembered a champion of the sport and a legend of Australian cycling; he continues however in pursuit of more victories. May he win that elusive Tour that more might take notice of his great career, though without it he is still great.