18 August 2011
I rise to speak of a truly Australian story, of a man whose courage, strength and pure determination embodies the Australian spirit. Through Cadel Evans and his spectacular win in the Tour de France, the world’s toughest endurance race, all Australians can be truly proud. Cadel Lee Evans was born in Katherine in the Northern Territory, and he spent the first four years of his life in the tiny Arnhem Land Aboriginal community of Barunga, 80 kilometres outside Katherine. When the locals saw him pedalling around town on his BMX, none of them probably foresaw his triumphant rise to the top of the cycling world and his elevation to the pantheon of Australia’s great sporting heroes. Evans has lived all across this great land, from the dusty outback to the urban metropolis of Melbourne. He is an everyman, someone whom all Australians can aspire to be.
Evans describes himself as having been ‘completely unsuitable for almost all Australian school sports’ while at school, but, despite his small stature and lack of speed, he persevered with cycling. He was originally a rising star of the mountain-biking world, having competed at the junior world championships and finished second. Assisted by his coach, Aldo Sassi, Evans then switched to road racing and continued to excel.
When I was in high school I competed in some triathlons, but it is my brother, Tim Leigh, who is the avid cyclist of the family. He has followed Cadel Evans’s journey from the beginning. He is the kind of person from whose bleary eyes you can always tell when the Tour de France is on. I know Tim celebrates the fact that an Australian has finally won his favourite race, the Tour de France, as does Josh Orchard, a sports fan who interned in my office this week and assisted with this speech. I use this chance to pay tribute to the many local cyclists in my electorate who have been inspired by Cadel Evans’s win, including Dan Ashcroft, Damien Hickman and Tony Shields, and to the work locally of Pedal Power ACT, an organisation which is campaigning for better bike paths for all Canberra cyclists.
Cadel Evans first tasted success in the tour of Austria in 2001 and again in 2004 as well as in a Commonwealth Games time trial victory in 2002. He followed this up with impressive performances in other road races, including our very own Tour Down Under in the Adelaide Hills. I think that pretty much everyone expected he would go on to compete for cycling’s greatest and most challenging prize, the Tour de France.
In 2006, Evans rode his first tour. While noted by many cycling enthusiasts as Australia’s greatest hope, his first tour did not garner the media attention now showered upon him. His strong performance ensured that his 2007 campaign was watched by millions of Australians willing him along the road. We experienced the highs and lows of the day’s stages and the eventual heartbreak that Evans must have felt after racing for over 90 hours to fall just 23 seconds short of Alberto Contador. After a disappointing race in 2008, Evans regrouped for the next year. However, in 2009, Evans again fell painfully short of the grand prize, finishing second in a strong performance. In 2010, Evans suffered a hairline fracture in his elbow and had to halt his campaign.
This year millions of Australians tuned in to the characteristically excellent tour coverage provided by SBS. We watched Evans battle through the tour as he constantly chased down breakaways, especially on the 19th stage in the French Alps, where Evans launched a stunning fightback after mechanical problems caused him to fall more than two minutes behind. We cheered and we cried when Evans demolished the penultimate stage—a time trial—and took the lead, and we cheered and cried even more as he cycled into Paris. We watched as the man pulled on that yellow jersey and took his place on the podium. For the first time, an Australian had won the Tour de France.
At 34, Cadel Evans is the oldest tour winner in the post-war era. In his acceptance speech, Evans dedicated his win to his late mentor, Aldo Sassi, who died of cancer in 2010 and was the very man who had helped convert Evans to road racing. Evans is a champion of sport, not only because of his success but also because of his perseverance and determination. Even when he has fallen behind, he has refused to give up. In a sport sometimes tainted by doping, Evans refused to accept anything less than a clean win in the greatest tour of them all. He defied age and he defied expectations. He embodies the Australian spirit: a spirit to win, to play fair and to be a proud yet gracious winner.