Greg LeMond has named retiring Australian cyclist Cadel Evans as one of the 'biggest talents" cycling has ever seen, and believes Evans was hard done by early in his career by a doped-up peloton.
By
Cycling Central

7 Apr 2015 - 5:20 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:35 PM

LeMond is in Adelaide for the Santos Tour Down Under Legend's Dinner, a yearly event coinciding with the race to honour a former great of the sport.

Asked on his thoughts on Evans, who will retire next week at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, LeMond was complimentary.

"Cadel Evans," LeMond said. "I always thought was one of the biggest talents I've ever seen. Just coming from where he was on the mountain bike. All mountain bikers are strong, but he was at the peak of it."

Evans was twice ranked world number one in the MTB world cup, but never won a world championship, or an Olympic gold medal. A rare physiological talent, Evans was considered a natural Tour de France contender, but when he turned to the road in 2001 with the Saeco team, he struggled to find his feet.

It took until 2005 for Evans to start pushing at the pointy end of the Tour de France, but he was a periphery figure in the yellow jersey battle, and only slowly progressed marginally in his first few seasons. Evans was fourth, in 2006, second in 2007 and 2008. He finally won the Tour in 2011. But in hindsight, Evans achievements are far more remarkable in a peloton that has since been revealed to have been far from clean.

Evans first attempt at the Tour, in 2005, has since been stripped of Lance Armstrong, with second and third, Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso heavily implicated in doping in that year's race. In 2006, Floyd Landis was stripped of his title, while two of Evans other rivals that year Andreas Kloden and Denis Menchov have been tarnished by the doping brush. 2007 saw Evans miss out by a handful of seconds to Alberto Contador, but only after the doped Michael Rasmussen had helped drag Contador up several of the toughest climbs.

Widely considered a clean athlete, LeMond feels that Evans's career is a classic case of "what if", and while he's reluctant to say he would have bagged more Tour de France wins, he does know that some of Evans best years were denied him.

"That's the tragedy, I think of that period. Cycling's dark period," said LeMond.

"You don't really know who had the talent. Some guys could have been running 20th or 30th and could've won. You just don't know. I think that's caused a lot of frustration, because there'll be no answers to that question.

"I think he came into the sport at a difficult time, a difficult time to show his talent," LeMond continued.

"It took quite a few years for that to change. I look at the transition from, 2006, 2007, 2008, to 2010, 2011. He rose to the top. I always figured that's what would happen. When you take a certain part of the group out. The real talent can rise to the top, and that's what happened."

LeMond is also convinced the sport has changed dramatically in the last few years, and says he's hopeful that now we are seeing the best talent shine.

"This last two, three years. You see the times, the power outputs, it's what you hope for. It's never been too complicated to figure out what's been going on — you look at the math (and see what's possible). There are always going to be guys that push the rules, that's never going to change completely, but I think what we're seeing now is very encouraging."