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Thursday, 18 August 2011
Page: 8663

Ms OWENS (Parramatta) (12:03): I realised just two days ago that I think I am finally recovering from the Tour de France. Like many Australians, I was up very late night after night after night—I missed only one stage. It is the same every year, and has been for many years now, and it takes me quite a while to recover—not that my effort was anywhere near as significant as those that actually rode it. I have been watching the tour now for many years and Cadel's victory was particularly sweet not just because an Australian won it but because Cadel won it—and I have been a fan now for many years. Even if he had not won it this time, I have still enjoyed some of the most extraordinary racing in watching Cadel over recent years.

It is worth reminding people who have not been following Cadel of who this man is. Even ignoring the win in 2011 in the Tour de France, this is one of our most extraordinary bike riders. He is the only bike rider to have won the world championship on a mountain bike and on a road bike. He won his first mountain bike world championship in 1998. By that stage, he had already been second in the mountain bike world championship as an under 19 in 1993, he had been third in the individual time trial juniors world championship as an under 19 in 1995 and he had won the Australian mountain bike championship in 1996. So he already had a substantial career. He won the world championship in 1998 and again in 1999. I have to say that the smile he finally gave after he won—after that look of slight punch drunkenness, I would have to say—was amazing. He looked totally stunned for a while and then someone said something and then a smile emerged on Cadel's face. It was the first time that I had seen Cadel smile that way since he first won that mountain bike championship so many years ago. It was a smile of pure joy after the effort that he had put in for all of those years to reach that level.

After the world mountain bike championship, he turned to the road. In 2002, he was first in the individual time trial in the Commonwealth Games. And I am really only reading the highlights here. There are lists of wins every year for Cadel. He was first and King of the Mountains in the Tour Down Under in 2003. He was first in the Tour of Austria in 2004. He was eighth overall in the Tour de France in 2005. For those of us who were watching back then, a top 10 performance by an Australian was extraordinary. In 2006, he was first overall in the Tour de Romandie and he was fourth overall in the Tour de France. He was again King of the Mountains in the Tour Down Under. In 2007 and in 2008, he was second, as we know, in the Tour de France. In 2009, he won the world championship on the road, an extraordinary effort. He was the first Australian to win that one, by the way, and the first cyclist ever to win them both. In 2010, he defended his world championship rainbow jersey in Geelong in one of the most extraordinary races I have seen for a long time. He did not win but the courage that he showed in defending that jersey in 2010 in the breakaway in the last kilometres of the race was absolutely astonishing.

That reminds me of one of the things that I really like about Cadel: he honours the sport and he honours the jersey that he wears. I admire Cadel so much for the way that he rides when he cannot win—when that possibility is over and when the only person he is racing is himself. We saw that in 2010 when he was wearing the yellow jersey and crashed in stage 8. Then in stage 9 he rode up the cul de Madeleine in the yellow jersey, lost the yellow jersey and fell back to the peloton and was dropped on the mountain stage, which is not like Cadel. His management said later that even though he knew by that stage that he had fractured his elbow in the crash the day before he did not feel that it was right to say so while he was wearing the yellow jersey. He honoured that jersey until he lost it, and then the story came out that he had fractured his elbow.

I do not think any of us can imagine what it is like to ride up a mountain with a fractured elbow. But I really cannot understand what it is like to ride down a mountain with a fractured elbow. It was interesting hearing him talk about that descent again in the interviews that he did after he won this year. He picked up quite a bit of time down that same descent this year. He commented that last year he found it very scary because he had fractured his elbow. For those of you who ride a bike, when you watch how hard they brake on those corners you understand how extraordinarily frightening that must have been. This is a man of extraordinary courage who has found a capability in himself that most of us can only imagine.

People say that you win the Tour de France in the mountains, but you actually win it with perfect preparation day after day, year after year. One of the enduring images for me from the whole coverage of the Tour this year was an image of the primary school he went to as a child. The kids there had obviously been following the race and they had created a fold-out/cut-out figures. You know: where you fold a piece of paper up and then you cut the half of the body out and when you unfold it there is a row of figures. They had painted them; there were nine of them. There were four red ones, one yellow one and four red ones. And that is of course Cadel riding in the middle of his BMC team as they rode of that last stage in the front of the peloton. Because it is a team event, I am going to name the team members who gave such incredible support to Cadel in the Tour de France. They were: Brent Bookwalter from the USA, Marcus Burghardt from Germany, Cadel Evans from Australia, George Hincapie—that extremely tall incredible rider from the USA—Amael Moinard from France, Steve Morabito from Switzerland, Ivan Santaromita from Italy, Manuel Quinziato from Italy and Michael Schar from Switzerland. I am sure I did not get those pronunciations right. They were the largely invisible men that were there around Cadel making sure he was safe in the peloton, making sure that he stayed out of trouble and pulling him back into the peloton when he had those mechanical problems on the mountains in the last stage.

There are also a number of Australian riders who should be mentioned in all of this. We had some of the most extraordinary Australian riders in recent years in the Tour de France. We missed Robbie McEwen and Mick Rogers this year. I was very sad not to see Robbie there. Robbie has been one of the joys for those of us who have watched Australians in the Tour de France for many years, seemingly riding without a team and emerging out of nowhere to win stage after stage after stage.

I watched Robbie once down in the criteriums in Geelong. As a bit of a distance athlete myself, every time I see a sprinter suddenly increase the speed of their pedalling my whole body asks how they do that. It is so far from what I am as a past athlete. Robbie is one of the Australian greats and I absolutely admire and respect the way he rode his career for as long as he continued to enjoy it. Robbie, even at the later stages of his career, was still in there as a contender in the final metres of each stage of the Tour de France. An extraordinary rider. Mick Rogers was not there. Mick is perhaps one of our riders who did not achieve what he could have. Back in 2006 and 2007 he was a very real tour contender. In fact, he was a favourite back in those years but crashed badly in 2007 and this took him out of the tour. Again, an extraordinary rider.

Stuart O'Grady, of course, was there. He has been there year after year, often in the front, for kilometre after kilometre, leading—a contender. He is an extraordinary rider. He has now signed with the new Australian team GreenEDGE along with a few rising stars: Jack Bobridge and Cameron and Travis Meyer. We are likely to see them in the tour next year as our first Australian team. Mark Renshaw was there. It is always a pleasure to see Mark, known as the best lead-out man in the game, leading out Mark Cavendish—and making it, I think, much easier for Mark Cavendish by the way. I think Mark is one of the extraordinary gifts to that team. And Richie Porte, who I understand was once a triathlete, was there. I know that every time a triathlete turns up to race with us on Sunday mornings the race organisers warn us that there is a triathlete in the bunch and we look to see who it is and make sure we get in front of them before the corners. I do not think Richie Porte has that problem. I think he has made the transition unbelievably well and he is one of the rising stars in road racing.

It was a great tour overall for Australians. I should also mention Simon Gerrans, who was the first Aussie to win a stage of the Tour de France, the Giro d'Italia and the Vuelta a Espana. He is again an extraordinary talent who, while we were all watching Cadel, we might have missed actually win a stage in the 2011 Tour de France. I would also like to acknowledge Aldo Sassi, who was the former coach and mentor of Cadel. I did not know him personally but I would like to thank him, through his family, for sharing a part of his life with Cadel. He was obviously a great contributor to the way that Cadel thinks and rides and I would like to acknowledge that.

It was an extraordinary event. It was one of great joy to watch. I wish Cadel all the best. I hope we see him again. I know we expect to see him again, defending is yellow jersey next year and we should all know from the character of Cadel that he will honour that jersey and defend it with everything that is in him for every day from now until then. He said a week ago that the preparation for next year's tour begins the day after the last one and we should know from this man that he will put everything into that for every day and we will see him absolutely honour that jersey next year. I wish him all the best. We will all be watching it again. Maybe he can do it again; maybe he cannot. Whatever way it goes, we will see an Australian athlete give absolutely everything up to the last moment.