“I don’t miss racing”
Cycling champ Cadel Evans reveals that, for the most part, he’s happy to have swapped hill climbs for home chores. But with a new baby on the way, he accepts there won’t be too much sleep in his near future
Former cycling great Cadel Evans and his pregnant partner Stefania join Stellar for a relaxed shoot, where he speaks about leaving competition for a new life.
On lazy days, Cadel Evans washes a car. He has plenty of them to choose from: a Mustang and a Cadillac feature in collections spread across his homes in Barwon Heads, Victoria, and in Switzerland. “When everyone else goes off to the office, I just sit at home and tinker with my bikes and cars,” the 2011 Tour de France winner admits. He has rediscovered the joys of childhood, he jokes, except that his toys are bigger and cost more.
Such ordinariness was deprived Evans as an elite athlete, when 340 days a year were consumed with training and racing. “A lot of people ask if I miss the racing and I don’t,” the former champion tells Stellar over coffee. “I don’t miss the weight of expectation to perform at such a high level, but I do enjoy riding even more because there’s no-one to tell me I’m going too fast or too slow.”
Evans got to his late 30s without trimming a hedge or mowing a lawn. Until 2015, and his retirement as the third-ranked cyclist in the world, Evans didn’t know about lazy days and leisurely bike rides; instead, he told himself if he suffered harder and longer than his competitors, he would beat them more.
“I’m happy to stay home,” he says with the grin of someone who has only recently stumbled onto simple pleasures. “[Doing chores] might sound very boring to many, but when you don’t get to have it you realise it’s kind of nice.” Now when he cycles, he recaptures the
feeling of solitude he enjoyed as a fouryear-old on a bike growing up in the Aboriginal community of Barunga in the Northern Territory. “Freedom – that’s what [riding] represented to me. I ride to stay fit and healthy… I just ride my bike to free my head, gain perspective.”
His easy chatter gives the sense that Evans, at 41, is ready for the kind of challenge that no training prepares you for. He and his partner Stefania Zandonella are about to have a baby boy.
Zandonella, a 28-year- old ski instructor, is “over the moon”, Evans says. They met in 2014, and she supported him in the wake of his marriage breakdown. They have a lot in common, he says. “We’re both sports people, we still do them but at a much lower level. And that’s the basis of our life, being healthy and active.”
Their boy is due on January 13 – less than two weeks before Evans is expected back in Australia from his Switzerland home for the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, which has grown in size and prestige each year since 2015.
“I’m not looking forward to not getting much sleep, but I think that’s normal,” he says. “I look at it as the start of an adventure because I don’t know what it’s going to be like. I look at it as a bit of a journey and a destination unknown.”
Evans is speaking of the early days: he otherwise has plenty of experience in fathering. In 2012 he and his then-wife, Chiara Passerini, with whom he announced his split in 2015, adopted a 15-month-old boy, Robel, who had been abandoned in the streets of Ethiopia.
He likes riding with Robel, who he picks up from school every Wednesday. “I cook him lunch and we go to a fishing lake near my home – fishing is his latest thing now, not so much cycling,” he says, adding that Robel also loves to sail.
Robel has taught Evans about perspective: Evans travels a lot in his role as an ambassador for Swiss brand BMC and for his bike race, but his highest priority “is not being away from my little guy”. His trips home to Australia – he makes three a year – are short, so that he doesn’t miss too much time with Robel.
Evans was not close to his own father, who split with his mother when Evans was young. They moved to northern NSW when he was four, then Arthurs Creek, about 45km from Melbourne, where high school was a 10km bike ride away.
His mother never pushed him. He found bikes for himself, in a passion that blossomed into an unlikely career. When he struggled to rise from bed, or through the Alpe d’huez climb during the Tour de France, he would recall the teenager with the dream. His grit gave him an edge over elite cyclists who had easier rises through the sport. “I see some of my colleagues who didn’t have that, who came through to the sport through a slightly smoother road than what I did, and they weren’t as prepared to deal with difficulties later on in their career.”
Evans hopes what works in elite sport may also apply to the everyday travails of baby parenting – “routine, routine, routine”. But he admits he will sneak in some extra sleep before his son’s arrival. Just in case. The Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race runs January 24–27, 2019.
“It’s the start of an adventure. I don’t know what it’s going to be like”