Among the reasons to make a big deal out of Evans' win yesterday is that he becomes the first Australian to wear the Rainbow Jersey, after some 25 years of significant Aussie presence in the peloton. Often times, people who do things first overshadow those who come later, or those who came earlier and didn't quite make it. The 2007 Red Sox were a much better team than 2004, and yet Kevin Millar will never have to pay for a drink in New England again. Anyway, IMHO Evans is one of two guys who you might look upon as Australia's First Champion. The case for Cadel would be that he's been THE breakthrough cyclist Australia has waited for, at least in the grand tours. No Aussie made the podium of Le Tour until Cadel did it with his two second-placings. His record contains a few other big wins, like Romandie in 2006. CQRanking has had him in the top four three years running, including #1 overall in 2007.
Next would be Phil Anderson. Anderson's claim to fame consists of some nice classic wins -- Amstel, Zurich, Paris-Tours -- and stage race wins at Romandie, the Dauphine and Tour de Suisse. He also won a maillot blanc and briefly wore the maillot jaune, the first non-European ever to do so. He and LeMond were the big story when they rose up simultaneously in the early 80s, crashing the Euro party, and there's a lot to be said for being a true pioneer, as Anderson was. In a way he and Evans are too different to compare, Anderson being a guy who almost won de Ronde while Evans is better suited to the climbs and long tours.
You could also throw in Stuart O'Grady, for his breakthrough sprint wins and Paris-Roubaix, or the country's most celebrated winner Robbie McEwen. My money is on Cadel. Incidentally, here is a list of first World Champions by country:
- Italy: Alfredo Binda (1927)
- Spain: Abraham Olano (1995)
- Belgium: Georges Ronsse (1928)
- France: Georges Speicher (1933)
- USA: Greg LeMond (1983)
- Switzerland: Hans Knecht (1946)
- Netherlands: Jan Janssen (1964)
- UK: Tom Simpson (1965)
- Ireland: Stephen Roche (1987)
- Germany: Heinz Muller (1952)
- Latvia: Romans Vainsteins (2000)
The Good: USA, Ireland, Spain, Netherlands, UK, Italy. The Forgettable: Germany, France, Switzerland, Latvia. Leaving only Georges Ronsse... seems like a worthy winner from his palmares, but considering the decorated Belgians who came later, meh.