Thursday, 17 July 2008

What is Cadel Evans's Problem?

For anyone who does not follow the sport of bicycle racing and in particular the Tour De France, this is going to appear an obscure topic. I have noted before how much I enjoy watching that cycle race which is running currently. The leader on time (by 1 second over the next nearest competitor) is an Australian called Cadel Evans who has been tipped as a contender to win the competition for the last 3-4 years. Australia has been producing very strong cyclists in the 2000s notably Robbie McEwan and Stuart O'Grady, but they tend to be good at sprints and winning one or two stages rather than have the mix of abilities needed to win the Tour de France which has flat and mountainous stages, urban and rural riding plus time trials. In addition you need a decent team to get you in position and protect you in the 'pack' of the peloton.

Cadel Evans won the yellow jersey which the leader of the race wears two days back, having had a nasty crash the day before. Crashes are a daily occurrence in the race, not surprising when 160+ riders are trying to charge down narrow streets or wind and rain swept roads. Evans pulled back and kept enough time to win. All very admirable. My problem with him is his attitude. Maybe I expect too much of the sportsmen. I expect them to be clean of drugs, which Evans and probably 95% of the racers are. I also expect them to have patience with the media especially when they are treating them fairly. If it was not for the media there would be no race. The Tour de France was first launched by 'L'Auto' newspaper in 1903 to boost its sales. It was the success in doing that which meant the competition continued. These days the event is run by the Société du Tour de France, a subsidiary of Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) which is part of the media group that owns 'L'Équipe', the newspaper that 'L'Auto' evolved into. So there has been a long association between the media and the race. The fact that teams get company sponsors is because those companies know their brand is going to be on televisions across the world for three weeks and the spin-offs in merchandising. Without this media coverage, again there would be no race.

Now, I know sportsmen, particularly successful ones can be aloof. Miguel Indurain was pretty silent throughout his career of winning races and Lance Armstrong, for an American, was quite quiet too; David Millar in no way as successful as either is known for being rather aloof but at least he speaks and answers questions without turning petulant. None of them was as prickly as Evans. Watching him push a police motorcycle or snatch away from a microphone and reporters even from his home country, in an incredibly petulant way shows how unpleasant he can be. Even in past interviews he has whined at reporters who have failed to see his greatness. The classic was a couple of years ago when a British TV reporter said at that stage of the race he was being considered a contender and he snapped back 'only now?' This is a common response from him as if we should all have known that he was great even when he was invisible in the pack and other men were attracting attention. I know you have to be confident to win, but you also have to be tolerant and accept that reporters are just doing their job and not chastise them for being aware of how super you were until you proved it. I have no problem if Evans wants to be frosty like Indurain but if he is going to continue like a spoilt child, he is unlikely to win any fans outside of his family. For that reason I do hope he loses the Tour De France and that that breeds some humility in him. Frank Schleck of Luxembourg sits only 1 second behind Evans and has proven to be amenable and noble even when denied the lead by such a narrow margin. I am certainly rooting for him to demonstrate that even when things are tough you behave as a gentleman not as a brat.


Luko said...

As a countrymen maybe I am biased. My take on Evans is that he is particularly media unsavvy but this seems to be due to his highly introverted personality rather than arrogance.

Rooksmoor said...

Luko, yes, I think it has been noticeable as the race has progressed that people have been advising him on how to handle the media and these responses like 'ride well', 'do a good time trial' are polite enough not to raise comment but allow him to maintain that distance he personally seems happier with.

Despite him being a favourite, I think he comes across as being a little surprised about the media interest in him and it is clear that he is a very private man. He needs to look to Indurain and Armstrong who in some ways were similar in personality but seemed to handle it well.

Increasingly I also think Evans is at a disadvantage because his team is almost invisible and this is in sharp contrast to CSC (or even Team Columbia) for whom reporters have got Sastre, the two Schlecks and Riis all to go after for interviews. Yet I have not seen one of Evans's colleagues or his team manager interviewed. It might be different on Australian TV to British. As a consequence, though, Evans has been under more pressure than these others.

I also think that to the average British viewers, Australians in general can come over as very terse or brusque, it is the same when your politicians come on air. If a UK MP spoke like your prime minister he would be heartily condemned, so I think there is a cultural issue that I am picking up here too.

Evans has to be admired for his tenacity and I think with that comes this inward focus. He has been a big contributor to what in my view has been one of the best Tours de France in years.