With the 2021 Tour de France drawing to a close on the Champs-Élysées early tomorrow morning, many Australians will be recollecting where they were 10 years ago for Cadel Evans’ unforgettable 2011 Tour de France triumph.
The celebration of Cadel Evans’ win 10 years prior to today has been perfectly encapsulated by the 20-part series on SBS documenting how the boy from Katherine conquered the 2011 Tour and how his legacy has shaped the Australian cycling fabric.
One man who had an integral involvement in the series celebrating Cadel’s journey is none other than Jason Bakker - Evans’ manager for the last decade.
For Bakker, a former first-grade cricketer who founded sports management company Signature Sports, the 2011 season was a year he best described as a deep dive into the cycling world.
Despite being thrown in the deep end of cycling when asked to manage Cadel’s affairs a decade ago, Bakker’s relationship with Evans had started several years thanks to mutual friend and ABC broadcaster Ian Cover, who was one of Cadel’s neighbours when he moved to Barwon Heads.
“Ian is a great mine of mine and it sorted of happened via that,” Bakker said.
“Obviously Ian got to know Cadel and mentioned to me once about him moving next door to him and we mutually met quite naturally, not organised, and at the time I was still working in cricket administration and Cadel was just starting his Tour de France career in the early 2000s.
“We invited him up to the cricket for some hospitality while watching a one-day international and it really just started from there.
“Then we stayed in irregular contact – I met Cadel a few more times naturally at mutual events but it was through people we mutually knew.”
Fast forward a couple of years and Bakker was in the early days of Signature Sports, having left his previous work in cricket administration behind with the vision of creating a sports marketing outfit.
“I really had no idea it was going to be cycling related at that time,” Bakker said.
“Then a couple of years later Cadel contacted me out of the blue and wondered if I’d be interested in managing his affairs because I think he was looking for something a little bit different and removed from the traditional cycling management model.
“Which is traditionally former professional cyclists or those who have a long history with the sport.”
Three monumental weeks in France
Standing at his first Tour de France in Vendée for the 2011 Grand Départ, Bakker was already quietly aware his newly minted star talent Cadel was privately in positive shape.
Starting his second year with BMC Racing Team, Evans had been allowed the opportunity to play a role in the composition of his teammates for the 2011 Tour de France.
There was a sense of understanding and coaction between Cadel and BMC Racing Team management, as Bakker explained, a fact that couldn’t be overlooked as the turning point for the 2011 success.
“Cadel felt some real synergy between himself and the team owner, the late Andy Rihs, as well as the general manager Jim Ochowicz, so he found some like-minded people who weren’t necessarily putting pressure on him ... but they had patience,” Bakker said.
“I think they all felt together that they had similar goals and outcomes and the way they wanted to achieve those was quite in sync with each other.
“A lot of people, teams and organisations say they want to win the Tour de France but they’re not always in sync with how to do it.
“Cadel was in sync with their values and their process and then I think also he was very clear in his mind.
“His off-bike, out of race life was becoming less complicated and more organised, and I’d like to think we had some role to play in that.
“You can’t push the pedals, but you can do some things outside of that, that allows your athletes and your riders that you manage to really be able to focus on what they need to focus on.
“There were good indicators that he was going to have a good Tour, but I don’t think that was the widely held view that Cadel was the hot favourite to win it in 2011, quite the contrary, I think a lot of the commentators of the sport probably thought Cadel’s time had passed.
“Privately Cadel’s confidence was growing significantly.”
Up against the combined might of brothers Andy and Frank Schleck, Cadel bided his time to strike in 2011.
Despite not touching the maillot jaune until after the Stage 20 time trial in Grenoble, Bakker said he was personally of the belief that Cadel was turning the corner to success during week two of the race.
“I think well before the time trial for me he was looking as if he had a fairly good chance to win it and as every single day passed that was only reinforced,” he said.
“It was becoming apparent midway through the second week, towards the start of week three, that Cadel was starting to show himself as the strongest rider in the race.
“It was starting to become a reality that he could win at that point, but clearly there was a lot of drama leading up to that and a lot of obstacles to overcome.
“In saying that, there were days where Andy Schleck took off, such as the Col du Tourmalet stage, and I think he had an eight-minute gap at one point.
“There is every chance in those moments that he (Schleck) could’ve won, so you never quite know how it will pan out.
“So, until that time trial when he put the pedals down and he really started to close that gap and go hard that’s when it clearly became the proper reality.”
The moments in Grenoble after the TT and the days which quickly passed following Cadel’s win are memories Bakker fondly reflects on, despite not pausing to do so often.
Looking back on the memories brought about by Australia’s celebration of Cadel’s 2011 win, the sense of surrealism is still apparent for Bakker.
“It’s sometimes like ‘did that actually happen?’,” he said.
“Because it was so big and monumental, sometimes you sort of wonder how I got through it and how Cadel got through it.
“Sometimes you just have to sit down and reflect a little bit. Life doesn’t always allow you to reflect because it’s busy and you are always moving forward.
“It was a very special moment to be part of, I suppose in some way I’ve taken my cues from Cadel and he has always been moving forward.
“Cadel is not someone to reflect on what he did too deeply, he’s always looking forward.
“Clearly, he is very proud of what he achieved but now his focus is on his boys and his partner, and I’ve somewhat adopted the same approach.
“It’s pretty surreal to think you played a role, no matter how small, in a moment so monumental and so incredibly special.
“I’ve never experienced something quite like that – it was unbelievable.”
The legacy of Cadel Evans
Cadel’s footprint on Australian cycling continues to develop under the management of Bakker.
The greatest tangible aspect of Cadel’s legacy to date is the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, Australia’s only UCI WorldTour one-day race, which has been running since 2015.
Growing year on year before the COVID-19 pandemic, Bakker homed in on the vision of the race expanding far more than an event for the sport in Australia.
“From a cycling perspective … he’s a guy who cares about his sport and he cares about his sport in Australia,” Bakker said.
“We want it to be an event for everyone - that engages and embraces people of all backgrounds, abilities and cultures.
“We want it to inspire males, females and everyday punters looking to get a little fitter and active in their life - that there is something in it for them.
“For the people of the region that Cadel calls home in Australia, that it’s a real stimulus for them to feel proud while promoting the region and economically supporting it.
“There is probably a number of elements there and I think the legacy piece is still evolving – I don’t know if it ever finishes.
“I don’t think we’ll get to the point where we’re done with it, I think there is always new opportunities and ideas to come.
“For the moment, however, the current Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race is probably where we are at for the minute.”
Holistically, there is no doubt Cadel’s accomplishments have inspired a generation of cyclists from Australia.
Richie Porte, the man who stood on the Tour de France podium less than 12 months ago, had a front-row seat to Cadel’s heroics in 2011 during his debut Tour de France with Team Saxo Bank-SunGard.
Porte’s success last year has now been backed up by one of the rising stars of Australian cycling, Ben O’Connor.
The Fremantle flyer is one of many talented Australian general classification riders rising up the ranks on the UCI WorldTour, and his 2021 stage win and almost assured fourth place overall finish is a juncture Bakker recognises as a special moment.
“That to me is what I know Cadel draws a lot of satisfaction and pride from – to see this generation of Lucas Hamilton, O’Connor, Jack Haig, and Caleb Ewan coming through,” he said.
“And to be honest, to see Grace Brown performing as she does, as well as Amanda Spratt and all the female cyclists as well.
“I would think that is something Cadel would watch on and extract enormous pride from.
“He would never claim it but I’m sure in each individual of this current generation of riders that Cadel has played some sort of role in allowing to see they can compete with the best on the world stage.
“He’s inspired a lot of the younger generation of Australians in terms of elite cyclists, it’s opened the possibilities for them to see that they can win these huge races and that they can compete.”
Picture: Jason Bakker (Adam Phelan)