“I’ve probably had two or three moments in my career where you’re in a situation and you honestly don’t know if you’re there or asleep in a dream” - Tour de France Winner Cadel Evans AM
Cadel Evans might just be the most incredible athlete Australia has ever produced.
How else do you describe a person who says his body is capable of something that “physiologically is not actually possible”?
The Australian cyclist became a national hero when he won the Tour de France in 2011 — the first man from Down Under to do so. His victory was especially sweet given he’d finished an agonising second in the 2007 and 2008 editions of Le Tour.
Covering roughly 3500km on a bike in three weeks is as tough as it gets. You only need to check out the photo Pawel Poljanski uploaded of his legs after stage 16 of this year’s Tour to see how gruelling the race is.
So it’s not entirely surprising to learn Evans’ physical potential outstrips not just your average Joe Blow but most professional athletes. Speaking to Mark Howard in the latest episode of his podcast series The Howie Games, available on Podcast One, Evans says his ability to control his heart rate — and keep it at an extremely high level for extended periods of time — was a freakish trait that separated him from the rest of the pack and made him the perfect endurance athlete.
“As an endurance cyclist you’re always in a constant state of overtraining so it (your resting heart rate) will always be sitting 10-15 beats per minute (bpm) above where it is (normally),” Evans says. “I didn’t have a super low heart rate but it would drop below 35-40 (bpm).
“You’re talking to a person who has a great sensitivity to their body. I could manipulate it (his heart rate) emotionally and with breathing and reduce it down to 32 (bpm).
“We would be at threshold. I had a great ability as a rider to sit at my limit, in the red so to speak, above threshold for long periods of time … an hour, hour and a half for the entire climb or two climbs.
“In my first Tour de France (in 2005) I spent both climbs at threshold or above which physiologically is not actually possible. I was a bit underdone coming back from injury and had these ridiculous heart rates — I’m sitting at 180 bpm but my maximum heart rate is only 187.”
Obviously preparation is key for the most prestigious cycling race in the world and even with his genetic gifts, Evans never left anything to chance. Discussing his most intense week of training before the 2011 Tour de France at altitude in Spain’s Sierra Nevada, he says a bloody-minded focus was as important as the physical work needed to prepare his body to endure hell.
“I’d wake up, do core exercises, a bit of strength training, (eat a) large calorie breakfast,” Evans says. “Big rides would be four, five, six hours at altitude with efforts on the flats and on the climbs.
“I remember when I did one of my biggest days, I accumulated a climbing or altitude gain of 5000m with the efforts in a five-hour ride.
“There was a four day block of the Tour de France which was the most heavy block … we were basically replicating this in training but at altitude. By the time we come to the third week of the Tour de France my body’s already done all this workload with the climbing volume, with the distance, with the duration, with the intensity and it (the actual race) is not at altitude, so we could do it a little bit better.
“We were in a dingy little hotel on the top of a mountain, no one knew we were there, no media, we don’t tell anyone we’re there, we just focus on training and recovering and doing our work.
“I always focused on that to not be distracted and gain some peace and tranquillity before you go on the Tour.
“I had to charge the batteries of patience and tolerance before I got into that (the Tour de France).”
If a cyclist’s body is going to carry them through three torturous weeks, they need to fuel it properly. Evans lifted the lid on his diet, saying he’d often need to consume 10,000 calories in a day when the recommended daily intake for a male of his size was roughly 2500 calories.
“The most important part of a Tour de France diet is actually what you eat on the bike, not off it. It’s what you consume during it through hydration, bars, food. I like to eat solid food because it’s three weeks,” Evans says.
“In my first few Tour de Frances we were sponsored by Power Bar and I ate only power bars for three weeks. Great, controllable nutrition, easy to carry but after eating them for three weeks (you get sick of them).
“We have paninis we call it in cycling — little bread rolls, high milk content. Then you put whatever you want on them — honey, jam, cheese. And then some bars and in the final (part of a stage) you normally switch to liquid for the last hour — gels, bottles, energy drinks.”
Of course, all the preparation in the world can’t help if you don’t execute when it matters most. Evans had suffered some heartbreaking setbacks over the years, but nailed his individual time trial at the end of the 2011 Tour to take the yellow jersey away from Andy Schleck and ensure he’d be celebrating all the way along the Champs Elysees.
But while Australia cheered, Evans admits the amount of distractions (from sponsors and the media) that come with any Tour de France victory made it difficult to absorb what he’d just accomplished. It was only months later when the enormity of his win really hit him.
“I’ve probably had two or three moments in my career where you’re in a situation and you honestly don’t know if you’re there or asleep in a dream, and that was one of those moments,” Evans says.
“That was a particular situation that changed my life.
“Six, seven months later I was driving along to see a friend and it’s the first time I’ve been by myself (since the win) and it occurs to me, ‘S***, that was a really good Tour de France’. But it was February in 2012 or something that I had time to sit and reflect and look back.
“It was such a long process to get there, the race itself is three weeks long, the moment you cross the finish line it’s left, right, everywhere. It really did change my life for the better but it really took a long time to really, truly sink in.”
This article courtesy of www.news.com.au