Cadel Evans has made a habit of leaving egg on people's faces over the years. Just when Australia's gallant Tour de France champion has looked to be on the ropes, career all but finished, a washed out version of a once great cyclist, he reinvents himself and gets up swinging. 2013 may be no exception.
Cadel is 36 years old. Getting on a bit for an elite athlete at the sharp end of a sport where stamina and aerobic conditioning is a core strength. He has looked ordinary this year and apart from a fair showing in the Tour of Oman in February he has looked to be on a downward spiral. Failures in the Tirreno-Adriatico tour and a less than stellar performance in the Giro Del Trentino have seen his demise proclaimed loudly from the rooftops by the Internet forum pundits, analysts in the media and his rivals.
I think Cadel's mistake after winning the Tour de France in 2011 was not racing again for 8 months afterwards. As a rider gets older I think he needs to maintain an edge through competition and training and it appears Cadel may well have let himself down on that score. But then again, who am I to tell one of the world's best racing cyclists how it's done?!
There was also a rumour doing the rounds in the hotbed of Melbourne cycling that Cadel had contracted a virus on his visit to Africa in late 2011 to pick up his adopted son and lost 8kg; a virus which was still affecting him during the 2012 season, forcing yet another early end to the racing year for him. The writing was on the wall.
It appeared that Cadel may also have lost the mental edge that enables great athletes to push themselves over the parapet and face the gunfire, that innate strength of mind that lets them push through the pain and get the most out of their ability. The strength of mind that lets them endure the monotonous hours of training and weeks away from family, friends, hearth and home.
So, it was with some bewilderment that the cycling world took on notice the advice that Cadel would ride this years Tour of Italy, the world's second greatest bike race. The Giro, as it is known is the Italian version of the Tour de France. Three weeks long and probably harder, it is as much a test of character and form as it's more famous Gallic counterpart and generally leaves it's competitors broken husks who forfeit their chance at the "La Grand Boucle" due to the rigours encountered in it's little brother in Italy.
Cadel's explanation on the start line in Naples generally made sense. He had missed many racing days last year and riding the Giro is a way to build up what was lost while trying not to compromise his preparation for the Tour de France. Makes sense to me. But will it work?
Last night Cadel finished second in the third stage of the Giro, taking a time bonus which puts him much closer to the leaders than he was after a very average Team Time Trial on Sunday. It was a performance which was nothing to write home about, a respectable finish on a tough day but it was noteworthy for one reason. The "Barwon Heads Bulldog" is fit and ready and won't lie down with out a fight.
Cadel will fight all the way to the finish of this race no doubt and the jury is out as to whether he can return to the top flight and perform in France in July. But one thing is for sure, the ability to leave egg on the faces of his doubters is still swilling about inside him and once more the Aussie charge at the Tour de France will be lead by our greatest cyclist. And he won't let anyone down.
Have a nice day.