Cadel Evans has provided some of the greatest moments in Australian cycling history, and some of them will never be bettered, because Cadel broke the mould.
But now, sadly, it’s Cadel who looks like he’s broken.
Yes it’s only the end of March but after an encouraging Tour of Oman, and a reasonable Strade Bianchi, further improvement at Tirreno Adriatico never materialised.
And now the Criterium International, an event Cadel went into as defending champion, only raised more questions about his short, medium and long-term future.
The first eyebrow rose in Saturday’s individual time trial, seven kilometres over a technical undulating course.
Sky’s Aussie golden boy Richie Porte won it in 9:10, a mere one-second ahead of Manuele Boaro (Saxo-Tinkoff) and Tejay van Garderen (BMC).
Nothing boosts confidence as much as good memories, so Cadel should have been feeling great about a return to this race. If that’s how he felt, it didn’t translate to any kind of performance.
Evans completed the seven k’s in 9:56, finishing 74th, a massive 46 seconds behind Porte.
So poor was this ride he was even beaten by Andy Schleck (71st), who’s barely finished a race this year. Cadel later wrote on his website, “small problem + small problem = bad TT” but there’s no need to worry as there was “nothing that effects longer term goals on the horizon.”
Cadel is never one to make excuses but an explanation would have been appreciated.
But that result meant he was destined to spend the final stage working for Tejay van Garderen, sitting only one second behind Porte on general classification.
Ordinarily this would be a stage suited to Evans. The 176km stage finished in a grinding 14km climb averaging 6.2%, with a one k ramp at 10% three km from the end, but the TT put an end to that.
As the Sky trio of Vasil Kiryienka, Chris Froome and race-leader Porte hit the decisive Col de l’Ospedale, Evans was with van Garderen and Amaël Moinard in a peloton steadily pursuing the day’s escapees.
Four k’s later, as Sky pounded relentlessly away, it wasn’t Moinard who was first to surrender for the day, it was Evans.
His day was done and he rolled home in the foggy, late afternoon drizzle in 49th at 14:56.
Writing on his website Cadel seemed happy with his day: “I was happy to hang with Tejay and deliver him to the final climb fresh and safe, a different role for me but enjoyable racing without the expectations of delivering the team’s results.”
Ultimately van Garderen wasn’t able to deal with Froome’s attack with just over five k’s to go or Porte’s stunning sweeping move three kilometres later.
For his part, Moinard sat on Tejay’s wheel, which is not exactly how you help someone conserve energy for a final assault on the yellow jersey.
So when it came to the crunch, Tejay didn’t have the answer to Sky’s super duo and he had to make do with third overall at 54 seconds to Chris Froome, who now has two stage-race victories to his name this year.
Cadel finished 51st at 15:49 and third place at the Tour of Oman looks a long, long time ago.
Feel free to have servings of humble pie ready to serve me in July but, sorry, despite it being the end of March, Cadel Evans does not look even close to challenging the top guys at the Tour.
Maybe he’s sick and just not saying anything.
Maybe I just expect too much.
Maybe Cadel is simply saving it all up for July.
Maybe, at age 36, time has caught up with arguably Australia’s most famous cyclist.
Cadel will now be back home spending “some time with my favourite guy and girl (son and wife) before beginning the next phase of my season.”
What that next phase of his season is remains to be seen. Hopefully we see him in both the Tour de Romandie and Dauphine looking impressive and ready to fly in France.
No one wants that more than me, but even if he does rediscover his form, Cadel should forget about the Tour podium. He should be told and then tell us that his role at the Tour will be to ride for Tejay. It makes sense.
Just as Richie Porte and Michael Rogers did for Bradley Wiggins last year, so Cadel should ride himself into the ground for his American protégé.
As a Tour winner, who could do a better job? Tejay would love it and he will thrive because of it. Last year Tejay rode for Cadel, even when it was clear the defending champion was struggling. Ultimately he was relieved of Cadel duties and rode to finish fifth.
With the roles reversed this year, van Garderen can at least match that result. If he does, it’ll be a better achievement because potentially the Tour line-up looks stronger.
It’s been an amazing ride for Cadel at the Tour, but now he should hand over his crown. In fact, he can split it in two and give half to Tejay and the other half to Richie Porte.
It’s sad watching a champion struggle but it’s brilliant watching another one emerge, and in Porte that’s exactly what’s happening.
The King is dead. Long live the King!