There was some temptation to stay home and watch the inaugural Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race on TV. Steady light rain was falling over Eltham as we woke. The radar looked a bit better over Geelong, however, and this was Cadel’s last race, so how could we not go?
The car was rocked about by crosswinds on the highway and heavy rain pelted down on us. When we got to Montpellier park, the site of the final loop’s KOM, intermittent rain squalls continued to make the spot cold and uncomfortable:
We scoped out the KOM and then retreated to the car to watch the live stream in warmth:
At first the race looked like it might hold the old formula – breakaway, breakaway caught, sprint finish. But as soon as the peloton turned into the crosswinds on the last stretch to the finish loop, any predictability was blown away. With the peloton fractured amidst a flurry of attacks and breaks this was suddenly a very exciting bike race. A few people have noted that the smaller teams – making the race harder to control by any one – and the absence of radios, may have also contributed to more daring racing.
When the race hit the final loop of Geelong, which it would repeat three times, we scuttled over to the KOM point. The crowd had grown significantly:
A stiff headwind blew down the hill for any rider making his or her way up it. Perhaps because of the weather, the race hadn’t drawn quite the riding/spectating culture of the TDU but a few riders made their way up the hill in advance of the race, with big cheers from the crowd for those who struggled.
Soon the race was upon us for the first of three ascents up the hill. We gave a big shout for Cadel and also for the local Conti riders we recognised; it was fun to see them mixing it up with the World Tour riders. The steepness of Challambra Crescent also ensures you really see the competitors too, as the gradient slows them to 20kph:
Blue sky began to break through behind the helicopters which signalled the approach of the race to the last ascent of Challambra:
I began to reflect on some of my memories of Cadel’s racing, with the moment he exploded over the top of Corskrew Rd in front of us at last year’s TDU a highpoint for my spectating. But as the peloton hit the start of the climb, with Cadel near the front, we forgot about any nostalgia and just shouted encouragement.
As soon as the riders had finished passing through, all attention turned to the big screen and the crowd at the top of the Crescent fell silent. In a lead selection whittled down to only nine riders, Cadel stood a very good chance of a podium result – something which many had discounted at the start of the race. There was no Ewan, or Haussler, or Porte in this group.
The air was thick with nervous anticipation until Moreno Moser broke off the front. I thought I wouldn’t mind if Moser won – it would be nice to have that historic name associated with the inaugural race. His break was reeled back in quickly, however, and the same group went to the line in a bunch sprint. Cadel seemed to sprint late in the final surge but the overall result was a good one. To finish fifth in that field, on that kind of course, in his last race, was a fantastic effort.
I was glad too that Meersman won, not just as a fitting reward to his team’s hard racing all day, but because an international winner gives credibility to a UCI 1.1 race. There were sixty-one Australians in the race with the next most represented nation being the USA with only ten. Meersman was one of only four Belgians but his win will focus European attention on the race in a way an Australian win might not have.
Some personal thoughts about Cadel.
It is unlikely I would be a club road racer if it weren’t for Cadel Evans. I’m very much one of the post-2011 roadies who the old school are sometimes cynical about. I was slightly overweight and mostly sedentary when Cadel won the Tour de France. Seeing the last few stages of that race sparked a compulsion towards road cycling which I could never extinguish. So I owe good health and fitness to Cadel’s example as I’m sure many Australians do.
But I also feel more personally connected to Cadel, in two ways. The first is about this area. Knowing Cadel went to Eltham High and knowing his legs were forged on the same local climbs as mine is a special feeling. It imparts a certain mythological energy to our local roads as an important part of Australian cycling history.
But there is something about the man too. I can recall seeing Australian sprinters having success in Europe, on the TV sports news, in the years before Cadel’s Tour win. Never for a moment did I feel any personal connection to them. With apologies for using a broad demographic brush, they just seemed like sports-dudes to me; something I was definitely not. But Cadel exhibited a personality type which made me feel cycling could be a home for me. His sensitivity, formality of speech, the unusual tone of his voice, and even his occasional irritable outbursts, all resonated a familiarity for me. Just by being himself he welcomed me into a sport which has changed my life. This is a gift for which I could never express sufficient gratitude. But having spent the last two years forging a better life on my bike, I hope I can push some of that positive energy on towards the rest of the world.