Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Cadel, a flat-out manager

Arithmetically, if all goes well, Cadel Evans should win this year's Tour de France, envisaged beforehand by former champion Laurent Fignon as a transitional event (a dull vintage, one might say) because, for the moment, there are no outstanding champions.

I hope he does, and I think he will. We'll see, next Saturday, in the all-important time trial. French cycling journalists drew attention, this afternoon, to the expert way in which Cadel Evans, with little or no assistance from Silent Lotto team members, is using all his resources to manage his status in the Tour.

Meanwhile, I'm dismayed to have to point out that, within the media context of this spectacular sport, characterized by athletic beauty and daring showmanship, Cadel is no doubt the least aesthetic and exciting cyclist we've seen for a long time. On a bike, he's frankly ugly: sprawled out with his head down, in the fat flat toad style of the Irish champion Sean Kelly. His bike wobbles all over the road, like a mad woman's shit [as my refined mates used to say back in South Grafton, when I was an adolescent cyclist]. These factors might explain why race commentators imagine constantly that Cadel is worn out, at breaking point... even when there's nothing wrong with him whatsoever. He's simply and sadly a rider who never exudes an impression of dominating power. And this view of Cadel is amplified by the fact that he never actually launches an attack against anybody. He's a defender, a defense manager, not a warrior.

Today, we're tempted to contrast Cadel with the impressive Andy Schleck from Luxembourg, who rides with his head held high, watching all around him, darting behind anyone who moves, sniffing the air and dashing into combats like a mad young dog: a metaphor suggested yesterday by his brother Frank, champion of Luxembourg, who took the yellow jersey away from Cadel a few days ago.

The French cycling world often uses a curious word, panache, which designates literally a vain show of feathers, like those of a male peacock. A down-to-earth explanation of the sense of this word would involve talking about a cyclist's being seen in an attractive light on TV, as a star, and earning the reputation of a kind of Zorro on wheels. Cadel Evans, alas, doesn't radiate panache. In his present role as a flat-out manager of Tour de France events, he oozes nothing more than dull managerial weariness. But it's not this kind of weakness that will prevent him from wearing the yellow jersey, as I hope, on the Champs Elysées next Sunday.

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