The main event of the cycling calendar has come and gone for another year, and it’s been an absolute barnburner of a Tour de France.
As each week of the Union Cycliste Internationale Pro Tour rolls around, yet another first for Australian cycling takes place. Every week brings a new frontier and this week has brought both individual and team success for Australia.
Perhaps the most encouraging thing to see is that the success is being shared around, meaning that the depth in Australian cycling is better than it has ever been.
Every week someone puts their hand up, whether it’s an Australian national like Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) or an international riding for an Aussie team, such as Michael Albasini (GreenEDGE).
2012 may well prove to be a watershed year for Australian cycling.
2011 will always be remembered as a break-through year, notably for the success of Cadel Evans (Tour de France) and Matt Goss (Milan-San Remo). 2012 is shaping as the year that Australian cycling announces itself as a potential superpower of the sport.
Cadel Evans’s victory in the Criterium International brought a collective sigh of relief to Australian cycling fans. Evans himself had admitted after his last start, in the Tirreno-Adriatico, that his legs were sluggish.
Evans assured us, however, that this form was due to an interrupted off season and that his single focus was on defending his Tour de France Crown this year.
There was credence to his explanation but at his age there is always the chance that his legs had reached their peak last year.
But disregard those fears – he has bounced back as only a true champion can.
The trademark grimace was back in the final stages of the Stage Two 6.5km Time Trial in Porto-Vecchio. To underline the strength of the Aussie contingent Evans just managed to edge out countryman Michael Rogers, to take out the time trial.
It was a welcome win for Evans, who displayed relief in his comments following that stage.
“It’s taken a while to get going this year, I didn’t have the smoothest off season as I’d like to have had, but that’s OK. Victories are always welcome.” Evans said.
He also reiterated what the big picture was for him this year.
“I’m always training toward my major objective of the year, and of course the Tour de France is my number one objective of the year,” he remarked
“Sometimes you go through ups and downs as you’re building up to a big event,” he continued.
Evans held onto the leader’s jersey in the final stage to take out the overall victory. His fourth in the Mountain top finish at the Col de l’Ospedale was enough.
It was the first time an Australian had won the overall honours at this race. But perhaps more importantly, within a matter of days Cadel had proven that his time trial and climbing form was starting to come back.
The weapons are still there.
If Evans’s win was not enough our Aussie Pro Team GreenEDGE built on its historic win in the Tirreno-Adriatico last week with a stage race win at Volta a Catalunya.
This time, though, it was with one of its international riders, the Swiss Michael Albasini.
In an international sport like cycling GreenEDGE must attract and nurture top non-Australian talent if it is to be a truly competitive team.
It has been great from a parochial point of view to see Gerrans and Goss doing so well for GreenEDGE. But we should be equally satisfied with the great team performance of GreenEDGE in protecting the Swiss rider from start to finish in this seven stage race.
Tactically the team is maturing every week.
And every week a new chapter of Australian cycling history seems to be written.