Will cycling bask in Evans’ glory or sink like America’s Cup?

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Cadel Evans in Tour de France 2011 (Courtesy: BMC/Tim de Waele)

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As Australia changed over its calendars and reflected on 2011, much of the sporting media were devoted to listing the great sporting moments of the year. Cadel Evans featured prominently, as you would expect.

Rarely can a year boast a history-making maiden Australian victory. But beyond this year, and beyond Evans’ career, how will he be remembered? And, moreover, how will Australian cycling be affected?

There are parallels between Evans’ win and the Socceroos at the 2006 World Cup.

Just as thousands of Australians suddenly became cycling boffins for the extent of Evans’ campaign, football was Australia’s favourite novelty fascination between the Uruguay play-offs and the Italian injustice. 2010’s tournament saw a similarly frantic level of interest in a far less inspiring team.

But beyond World Cups, has Australian football become more popular?

There is certainly more awareness of the game. There is certainly more knowledge about the game. While this has not made crowd figures more consistent or domestic allegiances more fervent, nobody would argue that the Australian team’s return to International football’s top table was anything but good for the interest in football.

So Cadel Evans’ win may have dragged cycling in from the fringes of Australian sport. The use of the word ‘fringes’ is not to deride cycling or understate its popularity, but simply to state the obvious point that it is not a mainstream sport with widely known competitors and large national viewership.

However, time may see a different dividend for cycling, where it becomes something of a ‘one hit wonder’ in the eyes of the often fickle Australian public. The prime example of this is the America’s Cup. Australia II’s victory in 1983 remains one of our most celebrated national sporting victories. I wasn’t alive at the time, but I’m assured it was massive.

Footage of Prime Minister Bob Hawke in that garish jacket swilling beverages and giving crass advice to the nation’s bosses is all the evidence I need.

Now this week’s footage from the SCG ensured that the America’s Cup win was not the last time we saw Old Silver sculling a beer, it was close to the last time we saw the America’s Cup in the mainstream media. Australia turned the Cup straight back over in ’87, and never competed for it again.

I would be intrigued to know how many Australians could say who contested the last America’s Cup, and who won. (I would have said New Zealand and Switzerland, and I would have been wrong: it was Switzerland and the United States, and the US won.)

So it will be interesting in the coming years to see if Evans’ stirring win permanently endears Australians to the Tour de France, or whether it goes the way of the winged keel in our national conscience.

I must say, I hope it’s the latter, because cycling is such an exacting and heroic sport. To see Australians competing for the yellow jersey every year would be fantastic.

Perhaps Evans, and the new GreenEDGE racing team, which enters the peloton this season, can take Australian cycling to that place.