Spinning wheels but going places
Despite being involved in a sport consistently fighting off the spectre of drug allegations, our cyclists rode tall in the saddle in 2006. By ROGER VAUGHAN
CADEL Evans tells people he finished ‘fourthand-a-half’ in this year’s Tour de France.
Officially — for now — Evans finished fifth, equalling Phil Anderson as the best overall Australian finisher in cycling’s greatest race.
It justly earned Evans the Australian Cyclist Of The Year award.
Combined with last year’s eighth placing, it also confirms his rich potential and raises the prospect of Evans one day reaching the Tour podium.
But like so much in world cycling at the moment, Evans’ final Tour placing is unclear.
He must wait until an American doping panel hears the case against Tour winner Floyd Landis, whose positive test was announced less than a week after the race ended.
If the panel upholds the test result, with the hearing to take place in the next few months, then Landis loses the Tour title and Evans could be elevated to fourth.
The Landis case was the last thing cycling needed — the day before the Tour started, race favourites Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso were among several riders forced to withdraw from the race.
They were implicated in an ongoing Spanish judicial investigation, codenamed Operation Puerto, which had allegedly uncovered a major doping network.
Australian star Allan Davis was another withdrawal when his entire team pulled out of the race.
Naturally, cycling’s image took a battering from all this.
But so far, no authority has found anyone guilty of anything and the Spanish authorities are unlikely to make any rulings on the case until well into next year.
After weeks of uncertainty, Davis learnt he was free to compete again, with no charges to be laid, and he is now trying to arrange a professional contract.
Cycling’s doping-related woes this year beg the ongoing questions — how clean is the sport, and to what extent is it a scapegoat?
Speculation persists that several sports were implicated in Operation Puerto, but so far only one has suffered.
‘‘We’ve certainly been badly treated — media, officials, police — (after) all the commotion that was going on, nothing has actually happened,’’ Evans said.
In the midst of this, Australian cycling continues to enjoy a sustained boom of popularity and excellence.
The home country won 11 out of 18 cycling gold medals in March at the Melbourne Commonwealth Games.
A decade ago, Patrick Jonker finished 12th overall in the Tour de France and was named overall Australian cyclist of the year — this year, Mick Rogers finishes 10th (or maybe ninth) and cannot even make the finalists for the men’s road cycling award.
Robbie McEwen won the Tour’s green jersey for the third time, plus three Tour stages and three stages of the Tour of Italy, but Evans took the road and overall awards ahead of him.
Overcoming a careerthreatening back injury, track star Anna Meares won the 500m time trial at the Games and last month broke the world record for the event.
After losing the gold medal ride-off to England at the Games, the Australian teams pursuit squad upset Great Britain a few weeks later to reclaim the world title.
The pursuit quartet included Matt Goss, who also starred on the road in Europe as a member of the new SouthAustralia.comAIS team. He and teammate Matthew Lloyd gained professional contracts late this year after strong results in under-23 and under-26 competition.
SouthAustralia.com-AIS represented another step towards Australian cycling’s d r e a m o f a f u l l y - professional road squad from this country racing in the Tour de France.
In mountain biking, Sam Hill won the men’s downhill at the world championships in New Zealand and Tracey Hannah won the junior women’s downhill title.
But for all its triumphs, c y c l i n g r e m a i n s a n inherently-dangerous sport.
Young Victorian cyclist Scott Peoples was killed earlier this month while training.
Wheelchair-bound Renee Junga received a standing ovation at the Cyclist Of The Year awards when she received her BMX trophy.
Junga needed spinal surgery after a training crash just before the mountain bike worlds.
Road cyclist Paul Crake also needed an operation on his spine after his crash during a November race in New Zealand.
July 19 marked the first anniversary of the crash in Germany that killed Amy Gillett.
T e a m m a t e s A l e x i s Rhodes, Kate Nicholls and Lorian Graham have returned to competition, with Rhodes remarkably making the Games team.
Reflecting cycling’s popularity and the effect of the accident, about 3000 riders took part in a January charity ride at Geelong to support the Amy Gillett Foundation.
Among them was national women’s coach Warren McDonald, who endured a hellish few months after witnessing the crash.
McDonald has spoken often since the crash about perspective and realising what is important in life.
In early August, while scandal and controversy were at their height in European cycling, he and wife Sian became first-time parents with Finn’s arrival.
HeraldSuntour, won his third green jersey in 2006
FOURTH-AND-HALF . . . Cadel Evans finished fifth in this year’s Tour de France, but may have his standing elevated if American Floyd Landis is stripped of the crown
SPRINT KING . . . Robbie McEwen, with Simon Gerrans in the