Up close with cycling champion, Cadel Evans

Cadel got his first bike at age two, and has been hooked ever since.

It was a 16-inch BMX with training wheels. I started racing when I was 14. I lived on the other side of Melbourne near Diamond Creek, so there weren't many sports you could do. My house was really far from school and friends, about 8-10km away. What began as riding to go to friends’ houses and going for rides or simply commuting to school pretty swiftly turned into going for longer and more intensive rides and eventually led to racing.

Cadel Evans at look out

It was by chance he fell into professional cycling.

I started doing small races and found out it was possible to make a career out of the sport. My next question was ‘What do I have to do to do that?’ because that’s all I wanted to do. We all have talents, we all have a calling, but not everyone’s lucky enough to find it. Cycling was clearly mine. I was passionate, dedicated and happy to make sacrifices to perform. I still love everything about it today.

He travels the world, but Barwon Heads will always be home.

It’s that one place where I can say I feel at home. I don’t spend a lot of time here, and I’ve spent my entire life travelling, but it’s my base and more home than anywhere else in the world.

Cadel Evans in Barwon Heads

Cadel hopes to bring his newborn son to Australia next year.

He’s so fresh he doesn’t even have the paperwork to get a passport yet. I’m pretty sure he’ll come next time, and hopefully will be able to have a long visit. I can’t wait for him to be here, my mum can’t wait for him to be here, and his mum can’t wait to bring him here. It’s likely he might even take his first steps in Australia. The balance bike’s at home ready to go. His brother’s balance bike is still in my lounge room.

Bells Beach is one of the first destinations he’ll visit for a local ride.

When I come over the cusp of the hill and take a left, the view reminds me why it’s so nice to live down here. It was my first ride back this time, and I managed to scout some local roads for the future Great Ocean Road Race course.

The region is primed with roads for those starting out.

Motorists are aware there’s a lot of cyclists, pedestrians and surfers, so it’s safer, and it’s relatively flat but remember to always ride on the far left shoulder of the road for those a little less experienced. Depending on your level of fitness, a ride to Torquay and back is a good way to start.

He feels lucky he didn’t suffer any major injuries in his career.

I’ve had injuries and I’ve had crashes - especially in races - but nothing major. I’ve hurt my elbow, collarbones, had a fair bit of skin off, but I was ultimately a rider who didn’t have too many hold-ups.

Cadel Evans at Annie's Kitchen

He recommends that injured riders slow down and rest.

If you have an injury or an illness before a big race as an elite athlete, it can really upset your mindset, and then of course your confidence. The advice I give to riders is if you’re injured or you’re sick, forget about being an athlete and concentrate on being healthy and that way you’ll be back on your bike and in a better way than trying to manage ailments while riding which can linger on and on. That means following the physiotherapist’s and the doctor’s advice and not doing one thing more.

"You also have the expectations of the press or public, and psychologically that can weigh on people. Fame didn't really interest me, I didn't like the attention."

- Cadel on overcoming the challenges

Cadel has overcome a set of challenges to be at the top of his game.

You go through phases. First you understand you can become a bike rider, then you have to understand how to become a good bike rider. It’s one thing to race, be fit and be talented, but to be a good professional you also have to welcome the business aspect. Find yourself a good team, surround yourself with good people, good staff, good riders. You also have the expectations of the press or the public, and psychologically that can weigh on people. Fame didn’t really interest me, I didn’t like the attention. But I didn’t feel any pressure from the Australian public. I felt like we were all on a journey together, especially during my Tour de France campaign.

The retired rider now revels in rider for pleasure.

As a professional, my life was organised around my training and racing. Now I ride in between everything else in my life - primary school pick-ups or walking with the baby so Mum can rest but it is no less important for me, in fact it is just as important for me but in a different way and that is helping create a happy and healthy life balance.

Cadel at Barwon Heads beach

"I compare to Europe because that's where I spend most of my time outside of Australia. Cycling there is at a point where I would want cycling in Australia to be. It's getting there, but it requires more education and awareness."

- Cadel on riding in Europe

Cadel is disappointed that he doesn’t feel safe on Victorian roads.

Unfortunately we’ve had an enormous increase in fatalities on Victorian roads in the last few years, and that scares me a lot. I like to promote cycling to anyone whose quality of life can be increased, whether it’s by commuting to work, fitness or racing. But I don’t want to encourage someone to risk their lives, particularly when we’re speaking about children. I’d love to see more kids riding their bikes to school. It teaches you to be independent, self-reliant, and keeps you active. However, if everyone’s driving their kids to school, the schools can become danger zones for children to ride in. Unfortunately, at the same time, as a parent, there's the fear of sending your kid alone to school on a bike so you drive them. We must find a better balance, it’s non-negotiable and it’s up to each individual to take responsibility for it.

He advocates both increased driver and cyclist awareness.

After you’ve ridden on the road you drive differently. Cycling in Australia is not something that someone does because they can’t afford a car, it’s something they do for recreational enjoyment, health and fitness or to reduce traffic congestion and contribute to a more sustainable way of life. Because a lot of people ride, they also know when they drive their car what it’s like out there on the road on a bike so that really helps awareness. I compare to Europe because that’s where I spend most of my time outside of Australia. Cycling there is at a point where I would want cycling in Australia to be. We’re getting there, but it requires more education, awareness and mutual respect.

Cadel says paying close attention to a driver can help keep riders safe.

As a rider you always have to be aware of drivers because unfortunately we all get distracted in our cars at some point. One thing that helps me is to look at the vision of the drivers and see where they’re moving their head to get an idea of where they’re looking. I also look at the top of the steering wheel and the front wheel of the car, because then you have a pretty good idea of where the car’s going to go. Anticipation can help avoid an accident. If you see a car ahead of you, try to anticipate if they’re going to pull out, open a door, or similar. Always act on the side of caution, slow down at roundabouts and around traffic because that provides riders the chance to make split second adjustments. On the other hand, it is also hugely important for riders to make sure they are visible on the roads and are making smart choices about what routes to take and when. It all contributes to keeping us all safe.

He urges us all to keep an eye out for each other - rider or driver.

The main thing is to not take your vision away, even if you’re looking at your speed or getting navigation notifications. If you have to glance away, first glance where you’re going and then glance to the speedo, for example. It’s something I do as a driver and something that cycling taught me. Before you take your water bottle, for example, look that there’s not a pothole in the road. As soon as I get a little bit tired I stop and sleep. As a driver that’s something that I’m really big on. Cycling taught me that when it comes to concentration, the longer we do it for, the more tired we become and the less we’re able to concentrate. For people at home contacting their loved ones, it’s worth remembering that they might be riding or driving. People can feel so pressured to reply to texts or emails - even if it puts them in danger.