This Blog is pure self indulgence! Bear with me.
For many years – in fact since the early 1980s – I have followed the greatest bicycle race in the world – le Tour de France.
For those of you who do not know what the Tour de France is I will say only that is it the premier cycling event in the world. It is a mind numbingly difficult cycling race where the cyclists race for three weeks all over France – and into neighbouring countries.
This year there were 21 stages – over three weeks - covering 3,430 kilometres – some of which took them up to nearly 7 hours to cover in a single day – and they climbed some of the highest mountains in the Alps and the Pyrenees.
It takes an exceptional cyclist and exceptional skills, courage, strength and mental attitude to win the tour – together with strong team, good tactics and quite often a good helping of luck.
I first became interested in le Tour when I became aware of Phil Anderson – and when SBS – an independent multicultural Australian television network started televising small segments of the Tour. This expanded until in recent years SBS was televising all of the tour live late at night. I was often sitting up until 2:00 am for three weeks watching every moment of the most fascinating bike race on earth.
(If you do not follow bike racing don’t try to understand what I am saying – just go with the flow)
Phil was the first Australian to win a stage in the Tour and the first Australian to wear the Yellow Jersey.
These are the Holy Grail of cycling. Since then there have been a whole host of Australian cyclists who have gone to Europe to make their mark.
Also since then there have been some fabulous performances from Australian bike riders such as Robbie McEwen, Stuart O’Grady, Michael Rogers - and many others who left Australia to make their careers in Europe and have excelled in the grand tours and in the Tour de France.
These guys are virtually unknown in Australia – except to cycling fans – but live in Europe and are glitterati in the cycling world and in the communities where they live.
There has never really been an Australian cyclist who could win the Tour except Cadel Evans – and he has come second twice. He has come second twice simply because he has not had a strong enough team around him to help him through the mountain stages and he has not been strong enough to do it on his own – very few ever have been.
A few years ago I attended a dinner at which Phil Anderson spoke and at that stage Cadel Evans had not featured in the places – but looked good as a prospect. I discussed this with Phil – and he said that Cadel could only win if he had a team around him that could give him the level of support that could get him there. This is indeed conventional wisdom and is the way it has always been.
Well – I am here to tell you today that Cadel did it by himself – and I watched it happen.
In the last two stages in the mountains Cadel was battling against the two Schleck brothers and Contador who attacked him constantly. At one stage Cadel had to change bikes and lost a minute and 30 seconds and had to chase the Schlecks – and caught them and lost no time on the stage.
He went into the final time trial 57 seconds down on Andy Schleck. i.e. He had to beat Andy by more than 57 seconds to take the Yellow Jersey.
He blew him away! BLEW HIM AWAY!
It was the best performance I have ever seen!
He took the lead in the race by 1 minute and 34 seconds!
He came second in the time trial – losing by only 7 seconds!
It was the most exciting Tour I have watched – and I have watched the last 30. Cadel cried. I cried. Kangaroos sobbed into their pouches. Koalas rubbed tears from their eyes.
Of course Cadel actually has to get over the finish line tomorrow on the Champs-Élysées but this is usually a formality. There will be no challenges on the last day – it is possible but not likely.
So unless a madman leaps from behind a bush and beheads him we can assume that he is the first Antipodean to win the Tour de France. Formidable!