Fill in the blank: The next Aussie Tour de France contender is …
BMC's Cadel Evans of Australia, negotiates a curve during the fourth stage of the 64th Dauphine cycling race, a 53.6 kilometers individual time trial between Villie-Morgon and Bourg-en-Bresse, central France, Thursday, June 7, 2012. (AP Photo/Claude Paris)
Before Cadel Evans’ Tour de France victory last year, Australia had, over the years, seen four riders develop into genuine General Classification (GC) threats at the Grand Tours.
Phil Anderson paved the way, becoming the first non-European to wear yellow at the Tour (in 1981) and won the young rider classification by finishing fifth overall in 1982 (a feat he would repeat in 1985).
Michael Rogers turned from being one of the most formidable time triallists in the world to being a genuine GC contender. After winning three consecutive time trial world championships (2003-2005), Rogers finished ninth overall at the 2006 Tour de France.
On stage eight of the ’07 Tour, he was virtually the yellow jersey on the road and many were beginning to wonder whether he would win it overall, before he crashed and broke his collarbone, ending his race.
He hasn’t been able to rediscover his form since, instead switching to become Bradley Wiggins’ lieutenant.
Cadel Evans himself developed from a budding young superstar, who wore the pink leader’s jersey for a day at the 2002 Giro d’Italia (before finishing 14th overall), into a full-blown contender. He entered five Grand Tours from 2005-2008, grabbing 5 top 10 finishes, including back-to-back second places at the 07-08 Tours.
He is the current Tour champion.
And, finally, Richie Porte, who has a remarkably similar story to Evans. Porte started cycling at 21 and wasn’t discovered until he was 24. Yet, in his first year as a pro with Team Saxo Bank, Porte finished seventh overall at the Giro, held the pink jersey for three stages and won the Young Rider Classification.
Yet, with all this success, it’s difficult to see where Australia’s next Grand Tour contender is going to come from. Sure, Porte is only 27, which means he’s still got plenty of time to develop into a strong GC chance. But that’s the thing, he’s a chance, a dark horse, a smokey who doesn’t warrant being considered among the big guns but can’t be completely ruled out either. Porte is a brilliant rider but I’m not sure he’s Grand Tour-winning brilliant.
Aside from this, developing someone who might be able to contend is not enough. You can’t sit back and expect a Grand Tour victory to just fall in your lap. They are something to be earned through attacking, aggressive yet calculated riding. Cadel Evans learned this the hard way in 07-08. The most recent example of a rider coming to this realisation and making the most of it is Ryder Hesjedal, whose ride at this year’s Giro was as remarkable as it was brilliant.
With all this in mind, who exactly can Australia look to for future Grand Tour success? It’s more difficult to answer than it seems.
We certainly have a lot of track converts who are becoming successful road riders, such as Luke Durbridge and Cameron Meyer, but aside from that most of them are still a long way off being ready to tackle their first ever Grand Tours, let alone winning the damn thing.
This is not to say that none of them absolutely can’t develop into Tour de France winners, but for all the chest beating that goes on about Australia’s incredible young cycling talent, stage race success beyond Cadel Evans is hard to see.
Simon Gerrans can’t climb or time trial well enough to be considered, we’ve already mentioned Michael Rogers, and Matthew Lloyd, who is a strong enough climber, is a bit too mentally fragile to be a genuine threat.
Perhaps we will see one of these track stars develop into a great all-rounder (if I had to choose one, I’d pick Cameron Meyer). But what we’d really like to see is a rider come up through the ranks like Tejay Van Garderen has in the United States.
He is a strong time triallist who can climb and has plenty of talent to develop over the next decade. Of all the young Grand Tour contenders out there now, I think he is the most likely to step onto the top step of the podium. If only Australia could boast such a bright Grand Tour future.
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