Cadel Evans: The Art of Cycling is the much-anticipated autobiography of the greatest Australian cyclist of all time. Famous in the sport for his meticulous preparation and an athlete who prided himself on his ability to leave it all on the road, Evans writes about the triumphs, the frustrations, the training, the preparation, the psychology of the sport, his contemporaries, the legends, and his enduring love of cycling. A riveting and forensic account of his life on the bike - from his beginnings as the youngest winner of a World Cup in mountain biking to the oldest post-War winner of the Tour de France.
‘It’s been a very interesting process, one of transition and reflection, stepping away from 20 years of competition and now writing the book has given me more perspective on a sport I was so deeply involved in," says Cadel. "I’m looking forward to sharing my journey with my fans in Australia and around the world’.
Below is an excerpt from the book showing Cadel's work ethic and drive, even at a young age. It also captures the moment when Cadel first realised that cycling was about to change his life.
A FEW DAYS AFTER the inaugural Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race I fly to Stabio, the little Swiss town just near the border with Italy that has been my home for the past decade.
There’s a strangeness in being home and knowing I don’t need to prepare for a race. I don’t need to train. It doesn’t matter what I eat. I can sleep in. I am free of the strict regimen of an elite cyclist.
But with that freedom come strange pressures. I am no longer Cadel Evans, professional cyclist. I am now Cadel Evans, father, son, friend. After 20 years, it’s a change that will take some time to get used to.
But I’m still me. You don’t change overnight. And that means I am programmed to get on the bike every day. Well, nearly every day. It’s February and it’s snowing, so I ride the rollers, the indoor bike, just to maintain a bit of fitness.
A couple of weeks later a strange thing happens. My racing team, BMC, has given me a mountain bike, which I haven’t set up properly yet because I’m so fastidious. One morning I find myself in my garage, looking at my mountain bike propped against the wall. I wonder what it would feel like to go for a ride, just a long ride through the countryside in the hills around my house.
When I started mountain biking at 14, I couldn’t quite pinpoint what I liked about it. I remember loving that first mountain bike. It wasn’t a very good bike at all – too big for me. Still, it did the job.
I started reading mountain-bike magazines and it was all about the ‘single track’, a trail only wide enough for one rider at a time. I got out my new mountain bike and stumbled onto some single tracks around my house and it was as though I’d found mountain-bike heaven.
Over my career I’ve never just gone out mountain biking and explored the area where I lived. I’ve never had the time or energy. The time or energy has always been dedicated to my road cycling.
Fast-forward to 2015. I’m 38 and finally I have time to explore. Isn’t that ironic? That my exploring years are happening at the end of my career?
Mountain bikes have continued to evolve since I rode them every day. The suspension travels much further, the wheels are bigger. It feels great to be on one again.
I go out and discover new trails right near my home in Stabio. One day, above Morcote near Lake Lugano, I find a really fun but challenging single track called Latte Caldo (Hot Milk). This piece of trail is about 17 or 18 kilometres from my house, right next to the forest, with a beautiful view over the lake. It snakes between huge and majestic trees and follows the contour of the hill. It’s a bit challenging; I’m able to ride up most of it, but I have to dismount a couple of times.
I’m thrilled at this great discovery. I’m tearing along, left, right, through a couple of rocky sections, and the bike’s sliding and bouncing around. I’m taking insane corners, up off the saddle.
No one is watching. No one is judging me. No one cares how long I take. I love the thrill of riding down this single track, feeling the adrenalin and the speed and the sensation of flying through the forest. I’m back in love with mountain biking and it feels amazing.
And then I realise I want to share this. Since I’ve retired I haven’t ridden with anyone. I’ve been enjoying the solitude of just being outside, riding alone for enjoyment or fitness. But this trail is too awesome not to share. So I decide this is where I’m going to take my friend Australian rider Simon Clarke, who is a relative newcomer to mountain biking. We’ve been close since our first meeting as roommates at the 2009 Road World Championships, where he was key to my success. Simon’s a rider who has dedicated the best part of his career and his ability to the success of his team leader.
After everything that’s happened over my career, after all the ups and the downs, after all the care and attention I’ve put into my body and mind, after the hundreds of races and thousands of hours of training, after all the experiences that have made me the bike rider I am today, this is the freest I’ve felt in years.
I’ve competed in nine Tours de France and four Olympic Games, and won the Tour de France, a road world title and two Mountain Bike World Cups. To come back and reignite my passion for cycling by getting on a mountain bike again, to have that same thrill that I experienced as a 14-year- old, has made me feel quite young again.
And suddenly I have a flashback to 1991, to riding a piece of single track in Plenty on the outskirts of Melbourne. I remember the adrenalin, the passion, the thrills. And I realise that, 24 years later, I still have the same attraction to the sport.
Image from Kirsty Baxter
IT’S 1991. IT’S 5.30 in the morning and the hills are shrouded in a midwinter fog, which sinks into the valleys and sits heavily upon our house and the paddock that surrounds it. The house is quiet. Mum’s asleep and so, presumably, are the horses under their rugs in our paddock.
It’s quite beautiful at this time of day, almost haunting. School doesn’t start for another three hours, so there’s plenty of time for a ride as the sun rises.
Our house is frustratingly close to the road and even at this hour I can hear cars passing by. If I catch the sound of swishing water under car tyres, I shudder in my bed, knowing it’s going to be wet and cold and unpleasant out there.
It’s on those days that my stretching ritual takes a little longer; I am subconsciously procrastinating. I don’t particularly want to go out in the rain, but I have an internal drive that is stronger than anything else I have ever known. I am not going to be beaten by the elements, however wet and unpleasant they may be.
We don’t have a lot of money so I can’t afford up-to- date cycling clothes. But at 14, I don’t know any better. Not that anyone is up at this hour to judge me – or, in Australia in 1991, even to care about judging a young teenager with a dream to enter a sport that most people don’t know exists.
All the same, this dream is driving me and the only gear I have to make it happen is a Gary Fisher Lycra jersey and shorts, Shimano mountain-bike shoes and a Bell helmet. On colder days I improvise: I find that two pairs of heavy black women’s stockings almost look like cycling tights when worn one over the other.
They’ll do; it’s those or get really cold. I pad quietly across the tired grey lino to the rear door, with the floorboards creaking under my feet, holding my one pair of prized cycling shoes and a water bottle. Under the house is my mountain bike, a used and very tired turquoise Specialized Rockhopper. I put on my shoes and rain jacket, take a deep breath and clip my feet into the pedals.
As I pedal away from the house the tyres crunch through the gravel, the only sound I can hear apart from the occasional car. I ride off, exhaling steam as I cross the road and start the clock.
The time trial starts. The faster I ride the warmer I will be, the more time I’ll have to enjoy breakfast, the less likely I am to be late to school, the harder the ride will be, the better the cyclist I might become …
The loop through the back roads of rural Plenty, Diamond Creek, Nutfield and Hurstbridge will take one hour and eight minutes on a good day. And it’s on this day, this bitter winter morning, I realise that I have found something within me, around me, that might change me, change my path, change my life.
They say knowing at a young age what you want to do in life is a great gift, so this is a big moment for a 14-year- old. It’s a strong sense that I’ve discovered something, and am about to discover many more things, about the world and about myself. Graham Greene once wrote: ‘There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.’ For me, as I push away on the pedals over the steepest and hardest climbs in the area, taking in the most challenging and enjoyable single-track descents, this is that moment.
While other sports have never worked for me – not Australian Rules, not cricket, not basketball – I’ve found a sport that does. It’s one that suits people who don’t mind – indeed, enjoy – being on their own, one that requires truly hard work, commitment and dedication. It’s one where you need the physical strength to get yourself through every kilometre, over every incline, and the mental strength and concentration to keep going through the pain of exertion, to extract every molecule out of yourself and put it down into the pedals and onto the road.
It’s at this moment, on this little turquoise bike, amongst these quiet peaceful hills, in that crisp, clean air, feeling that surge of adrenalin, that I dream my life is about to change. And an adventure is about to start.