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Part 4: A Long Way From Home

Herbie Sykes Tekst Herbie Sykes Gepubliceerd 21 July 2017

Herbie Sykes takes us back in time to four remarkable moments in the history of la Grande Boucle.

Col du Galibier, 21 July 2011
Cadel had started on the road in 2001, with Saeco. He’d started well, and he’d won the Tour of Austria quite easily. The Tour of Austria was where the also-rans went, but then he went and walloped Lance in those time trials at A Travers Lausanne. He walloped Gotti as well, at the Brixia Tour, but by September he hadn’t been walloping anybody at all. He was knackered. Walloped.

Cadel had shipped out of Saeco at the season’s end, and into Mapei. That’s where he’d met Aldo, at the performance centre in Varese.

Cadel had almost won the 2002 Giro. He’d had the jersey, but then he’d ground to a halt on the Passo Coe. Eighteen minutes. Aldo had told him that it can happen, and he’d known that because it had happened to him. Aldo had explained everything, and Cadel had understood everything. Most of all he’d understood that Aldo was a good man, someone he could talk to and someone in cycling that he could trust.

Cadel had signed with Telekom next, but he hadn’t understood them and they hadn’t begun to understand him. He’d won the Tour of Austria again, and that tells you all you need to know about his two years at Telekom. Cadel hadn’t been part of the Ullrich group because he hadn’t been able to recover, and he’d proved it by dribbling round the Vuelta. Best to concentrate on shorter stage races, the ones he’d a chance of winning.

Aldo had always tried to convince him that it could be done, but even Cadel had his doubts. Aldo was a brilliant guy and a lovely human being, but there were no prizes for that in cycling. You didn’t get 300 watts by training hard, and you certainly don’t get them by being naïve. To get 300 watts you needed to be pragmatic.

They’d said he was ‘complicated’, but in reality he was anything but. It was cycling that was ‘complicated’, not him.

Cadel was out on his own, and he was a very, very long way from home. Aldo liked that about him because he knew what it was like to be out on your own. He also liked the fact that Cadel had the courage of three men, and he’d be needing it to pull this off. The two of them had kept on chipping away at it. Fifth in 2006, and fourth if you take out Landis. Third if you take out Klöden but, as Aldo said, best not to think like that. Just train, race and rest, and forget about what the others were doing. Just keep chipping away at it.

He should have beaten Sastre, but the one and only day he’d needed his team around him they’d been worse than useless. They’d said he was ‘complicated’, but in reality he was anything but. It was cycling that was ‘complicated’, not him. Second again.

Aldo had told him about the cancer before the Giro. He said it was all good, and that he’d be with him regardless. Come what may Cadel was to keep going, because their journey wasn’t over. He told him he was 100 per cent convinced that it could be done, and that he’d a duty to keep fighting. His body expired before Christmas, but not his soul; that resided within Cadel.

The Galibier. Frank and Andy up the road. Sanchez dropped, and yet not a single turn from Cunego or Basso. Nothing from Contador, and Voeckler clinging on. It was happening to them again. Dying before their very eyes…

Headed into stage 19 of the 2011 Tour, Thomas Voeckler wore yellow. Evans stood second at 1’18”, with Frank Schleck four seconds behind. Andy was at 2’36”, in effect 1’18” behind the Australian. With a 43 kilometre TT still to come, neither Voeckler nor Frank Schleck could win the Tour. Now, however, Andy Schleck looked like doing precisely that.

With 10 kilometres of the Galibier remaining, he led Evans by 4’24”, ergo by 3’06” on GC. Cadel’s Tour de France dream – and that of the late Aldo Sassi – seemed to be unravelling yet again, and it was apparent once again that no help would be forthcoming from the others.

Thus, in extremis, he put himself on the front for the umpteenth time, and shoved it into the biggest gear he could turn. Then, notwithstanding the numbers and the pain, he turned that gear for 35 of the greatest minutes in recent Tour de France history.

He had closed to within 2’15” of Andy.

Three days later the two of them, Cadel Evans and his late mentor Aldo Sassi, won the Tour de France.

Image: Cor Vos