Sport

Cadel Evans rates as one of Australia's all-time greats – of any sport

It's arguably the greatest moment in Australian sport – when Cadel Evans pedalled his way into history as the first Aussie to win the Tour de France.

A former  mountain biker gone rogue from a country that prides itself on hating those pesky cyclists who clog up our roads with their lycra and non-carbon burning transport.

His retirement asks questions of Cadel Evans' place in Australian sport history.
His retirement asks questions of Cadel Evans' place in Australian sport history. 

It pushed the sport into Australia's psyche and ensured there was plenty more tired workers through the month of July after sitting up late and watching the peloton pedal its way around France.

Evans has announced his retirement for early 2015 and will have a farewell Tour Down Under.

John Aloisi's penalty goal to send the Socceroos to the World Cup is one of Australia's most iconic moments.
John Aloisi's penalty goal to send the Socceroos to the World Cup is one of Australia's most iconic moments. Photo: Vince Caliguiri

Hopefully on Sunday night, we'll see Evans pass the baton to Canberra young gun Michael Matthews in the world championship road race in Ponferrada, Spain.

Normally Evans is the main man, the guy the team is riding for, but with Matthews and Simon Gerrans shaping as Australia's best chances to win the world champs jersey, he'll have to take a back seat to the pair and help with the leg work.

It's come full circle for the Northern Territorian as he calls time on his Tour de France heroics.

There's plenty of iconic moments in Aussie sport that have put us on the pedestal as the greatest sporting nation on the planet – Australia II winning the America's Cup in 1983, Cathy Freeman uniting the nation with her 400-metre gold medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, John Aloisi's penalty returning the Socceroos to the World Cup,  Rod Laver winning his countless tennis grand slam titles and Sir Donald Bradman leading his Invincibles on the only ever unbeaten Ashes tour of England.

John Bertrand and Australia II's success in the America's Cup ranks highly too.
John Bertrand and Australia II's success in the America's Cup ranks highly too. 

Evans sits comfortably in that company (no doubt helped by his padded shorts).

He was able to transcend his sport, traditionally a minority one in Australia, and unite the nation as he pedalled his way through our wee small hours on the other side of the world.

It's that rare ability to unite that makes him one of our sporting greats.

John Bertrand's hand on the helm of the Australia II managed to bring a country together in the pre-dawn darkness, listening to radio's in bed in a sport that normally only enters our thoughts as a sideshow to the  Boxing Day Test.

But the interest in the America's Cup was short lived and is now just a blip on the radar.

Evans' impact has been far greater and seems to be a lasting one, similar to that of the Socceroos.

The image of Aloisi charging around Sydney's Olympic Stadium waving his shirt above his head in 2005 is still on TV today.

Playing in the 2006 World Cup provided a massive boost to the A-League and is a big reason behind soccer's push towards rivalling the AFL and NRL on the Australian football landscape.

It's now the third biggest football code, having leap-frogged rugby union.

There were other great cyclists before Evans – Phil Anderson was the first Aussie to wear the yellow jersey, Robbie McEwen won the green jersey three times, while Canberra's Mick Rogers is a three-time  world time-trial champion – but none of them had the impact he did on both the sport or the Aussie psyche.

And to think, it could have been Rogers.

The Canberran was the virtual leader of the 2007 Tour de France when he crashed and broke his collarbone on stage eight, forcing him to withdraw.

Evans would go on to finish second in that tour, behind Rogers' current Tinkoff Saxo teammate Alberto Contador.

It would take Evans another four years to climb to the pinnacle of professional cycling – taking a nation of millions along for the ride – and laying the foundations for a new era of Australian cyclists, which includes Matthews. 

We're still yet to see just how good Matthews will be.

He crashed in training  just days before his debut at this year's Tour de France, forcing him out of the great race, but we've had mouth-watering snippets in the other two major cycling races – the Giro d'Italia and the Vuelta a Espana.

The man dubbed "Bling" has won stages and led both of those races, but we'll have to wait til next year's edition of the Tour de France before we find out what he can do on the biggest stage of all.

One thing we know, there'll be a lot more people watching because of what Evans has done – for both cycling and his country.