Is Cadel Evans an accidental tourist? After seeing and reading the misadventures of the Australian on thethirteenth stage of the Vuelta a España, that’s a question AnthonyTan’s is asking himself.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:36 PM

It
was the afternoon of September 12, the second-to-last major mountain
leg of the Tour of Spain, finishing on the formidable special category
climb of Sierra Nevada.


For Evans, sitting pretty in second on the overall classification,
seven seconds off the lead of Alejandro Valverde, he knew what was
required: stay in touch with the maillot oro (golden jersey)
till the final climb, and if he could, distance himself from the
Spaniard and Rabobank's Robert Gesink, the Dutchman eleven seconds
behind Evans at the start of the day.


But the Australian never got his chance to discover what might have been, and for this tour at least, never will.


His puncture on the penultimate climb of the first category Monachil
came at a bad time, just as the favourites' group was nearing its
crest. However, it wasn't so much the puncture that cost Evans, but the
following one-and-a-half minutes where he was left standing at the
roadside.


A neutral spares motorbike with two mechanics soon arrived. Evans'
Silence-Lotto team uses Campagnolo equipment and Shimano was the
sponsor of the neutral spares vehicles at the Vuelta,
but that wasn't the problem: for some unknown reason, neither of the
two mechanics could pop the new wheel back in; a relatively straightforward
task you'd expect both to have done thousands of times before.


"Err... slight problem when the GC group is riding away from you on the
second-last hilltop finish of the Vuelta," Evans wrote on his website
post-stage.


Other
photographers' bikes made a bad situation worse by blocking the road
behind, and by the time his team car arrived to hand him a new bike, a
minute and twenty-three seconds had past.


Evans ended the day one minute and eight seconds behind Valverde
– it was fifty-eight seconds, but to add insult to injury the officials
awarded him a ten-second penalty for being handed a water bottle – and
dropped to eighth overall.


The events bore a strong resemblance to an edition of the Vuelta twenty-five years ago.


Entering the penultimate leg, a 200-kilometre medium-mountain stage from Alcala to Segovia, Scotsman Robert Millar,
riding for the Peugeot team, was leading the 1985 race, set to become
the first English-speaking rider to triumph in a grand tour.


The only rival he needed to concern himself with was Colombian Pacho
Rodriguez, just ten seconds behind on the general classification.
Millar wasn't worried: till then, he had been the strongest rider
throughout - and showed no signs of waning.


On the Cotos, second-last climb of a three-climb stage, Millar
punctured on its lower slopes, but unlike Evans, he received a quick
wheel-change and with the aid of team-mates Pascal Simon andRonan Pensec, he rejoined the lead group. Or had he?


On
this inclement, dog of a day, punctuated by rainstorms and hail, the
Scot soon realised Rodriguez and the rider placed third on the overall
standings,Pello Ruiz Cabestany (a team-mate of Spanish cycling's next
big thing, Pedro Delgado), in contravention of cycling's unwritten rule
of the road, had attacked whenMillar punctured. So, after another
effort and over the top of the Cotos, he was back with the leaders.


Accounts of what then unfolded vary somewhat. But this is fact: unknown
to Millar, Spaniard José Recio had broken away just before the crest of
the Cotos, and Delgado, his team clothing camouflaged by a rain cape,
was soon in tow, with 69km left to race.


Delgado was the best placed, though 6:13 behind Millar on the overall. Still, Millar
had no idea that Delgado was one of the escapees till 26km from the
finish, when his sport director came up and told him the lead pair was
nearly 4 min in front.


Without any team-mates, Millar found
himself isolated among his group of ten, seven of whom were Spanish.
The other three initially helped him before the Colombian Rodriguez
told the Scot he'd rather see Delgado win than keep his second place
overall.


Delgado gifted the stage victory to Recio. Millar's group came in 6:39
down. He'd just lost what would have been the biggest win of his career.


In a repugnant gesture, Delgado publicly thanked the other Spanish
teams; and Recio's manager told Colombian journalists that as much as
it pained him to hold his rider back, "anything was preferable to
allowing Millar the victory".


There's also the story of the twenty-man chase group behind Millar's
that contained his team-mates Simon and Pensec, and seemed to be
closing in till road barriers came down at a level train crossing – but
the train never came.


The antipathy towards Millar – or perhaps more correctly, an Anglophone
winning the Vuelta – was obvious not just among the peloton, but on the
roadside, too. One banner read: 'Españoles, valientes, Que no gane El Pendientes' (Brave Spaniards, don't let the one with the earring win).


"I am completely disgusted with it all," Millar told veteran journalist
John Wilcockson the following day, when it was official he had lost the
Vuelta.


"I haven't lost the race because I cracked up. You can't compete
against the whole peloton. I feel betrayed. After all my efforts, it's
sickening to lose like this."


Now
read Evans' words immediately after the stage to Sierra Nevada: "I
don't deserve that. I do everything f****** right in this sport. I
don't deserve that shit."


Hours later, he reiterated those
feelings on his Web page. "After the BS I have been through just to get
to this race, I am not so sure I deserved that."


If history is anything to go by, it's been a while since the Spanish has played fair at their home tour.