Cycling fans' endurance rewarded

There are times when I think that Australia should truly be known as the Lycra Country.

Get up early on virtually any morning of the week, and you will see packs of cyclists hurtling around the parks or thundering, Peloton-like, down the highways. Venture out a little later and you will often see them packing out cafes as they gather for a hearty post-ride breakfast.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Evans: Not brash, cocky or brimming with braggadocio

I was going to call it a pre-dawn sub-culture, but it is far more mainstream than that.

No wonder then that the victory of Cadel Evans in the Tour de France is being treated as such a major national event. No Australian has ever won cycling's most illustrious prize, and Evans's triumph is being likened to Australia's dramatic victory in the America's Cup in 1983.

Then, famously, the Prime Minister Bob Hawke effectively gave the entire nation the next day off. "Any boss who sacks a worker for not turning up today is a bum," the Silver Bodgie exuberantly declared.

Few expect Julia Gillard to follow suit - and the joke on Twitter was that it would require support from the bike-friendly Greens to do so. So it will be interesting to see how many people "throw a sickie" on Monday - although victory was sealed, and presumably celebrated, in the early hours of Sunday morning.

In Victoria, where Evans went to school, people are being urged to wear yellow in celebration of his victory. But, in a country that goes its sporting ways during the winter months, the joy has been felt nationwide.

For Australian sports fans, watching his ride to victory has been something of an endurance test in itself. For three weeks each year, cycling enthusiasts live a nocturnal existence - tuning into the coverage of the tour on the channel SBS either side of the midnight hour to cheer on the best cyclist that Australia has produced.

In 2007 and 2008 Evans came close. On both occasions he finished second. Now, at last, their patience has been rewarded.

There's a common misconception abroad that Australian fans like their sports stars to be brash, cocky and brimming with braggadocio. Shane Warne or David Campese-types, if you like.

But Cadel Evans does not fit that mould at all, which I suspect explains much of his appeal. He's tough, gritty, hard-working, understated and taciturn. Some view him as a cycling version of Steve Waugh, the ultimate Aussie competitor. Like Waugh, he's also more reflective and complicated than your average international sportsman.

He's been known, for instance, to wear undershirts emblazoned with the flag of Tibet beneath his team colours.

No doubt many bleary-eyed cycling fans will be looking forward to normalising their sleep patterns after three weeks of Le Tour.

But in the early hours of this morning they will burning the midnight oil one last time as Australia's latest national hero cycles down the Champs-Elysees wearing a yellow jersey and with a flute of champagne in his hand.

UPDATE: The morning after the weekend before, the victory of Cadel is obviously headline news here. The Sydney Morning Herald came up with a nifty idea by framing its front page in a yellow border. Parts of its reports of Cadel Evans's triumph are highlighted in yellow.

As yet, however, I have seen few people heed the call to turn up at work wearing yellow. The other thing to report is that people have indeed turned up at work.

Rather disappointedly, there has been no mass absenteeism - or "chucking a sickie", which, I am reliably informed, is the correct terminology.

For an alternative take on Cadel and the significance of his victory, here is the writer Mia Freedman.