Bendigo local Alex Evans is increasingly making a name for himself over in Europe, with Pro Continental squad Circus-Wanty Gobert snapping him up for the 2020 season.
A skinny climber who’s a mountain goat through and through, Evans has spent the past few seasons excelling on the tough, long climbs in Australia and Europe. Highlighted off by a Tour de l’Avenir stage win, Evans hoped that would be enough to see him propelled to a WorldTour contract but a late contract at Pro Continental level with well-known Belgian team Circus-Wanty Gobert provided the opportunity to move a step up for 2020.
An endurance athlete to the core, Evans came through junior triathlon ranks before moving to the road.
“I sort of started originally when I was around 10 on the track,” said Evans, “then I went to triathlon, that sort of 16-19 age gap and then onto the road.
“I noticed in triathlon that I didn’t have to work as hard on the bike, so maybe that was what I was naturally best at. My dad used to race around my age as well so cycling has always been in the blood.”
“When I was coming out of the 19s age group, there was no Under 23s in triathlon and I didn’t want to be dropped in the deep end with elites straight away, so that was the reason.”
Evans follows a well-worn trail transitioning from triathlon to road racing, with Richie Porte perhaps the best known crossover within Australia.
“There’s lots of guys that come from triathlon and I think it really helps with endurance with the swimming and running,” said Evans. “I know Richie Porte still swims in the pool, so it must help.”
From his entry into the sport it has been a rapid ascension to where Evans is now, on the verge of riding some of the biggest races in the world. From humble roots at AMR Renault, Evans took out the queen stage of the Tour of Tasmania, jumping on to Mobius where he famously finished second behind Esteban Chaves on the queen stage of the Herald Sun Tour.
His talents were recognised by WorldTour squad BMC, who put Evans on for a stagiare stint in 2018. He moved to top development squad SEG Racing, also the rider agency that represents Evans, and impressed in his time there.
“It was a quick rise… on the AMR, then winning that Poatina stage got me on to Mobius where I did well at Sun Tour, then BMC Racing and now on to SEG Racing. It’s all moved fairly rapidly.”
The big result was the finish atop Lake Mountain at the Herald Sun Tour, with Evans only considered a fringe candidate in a peloton packed full of quality riders.
“It was a really great experience for me,” said Evans. “The team (Mobius) put it all the line for me all day and sacrificed themselves into the bottom of the hill to put me in position. It was nice to be able to repay them with a result like that.
“I was working full-time at the bike shop at the time, so it was a bit of a surprise for me as well.”
The big knock on Evans, one that gets brought up when talking to teammates and staff who have raced with the Victorian, is that he has a reputation for being a bit slack when it comes to interacting within a team environment and showing up when he’s meant to.
“It’s a bit part of my personality, I’m a bit easy going, I put it like that,” said Evans. “Trying to work on those things obviously but I go with the flow a bit.”
Evans learnt a lot from his time in Europe with SEG Racing, turning his impressive climbing power into becoming a more complete cyclist.
“Australian racing is a lot of numbers and what you can do if there’s a hill at the end,” said Evans. “Over here in Europe, in the Under 23 scene at least, that gets thrown out the window and it comes down to how crafty and bike rider you are. Just chopping people all day, you have to be at the front all day and if you’re not it doesn’t matter how good you are, you won’t be in the bike race.”
“It’s amazing how hard the Under 23 racing is compared to the Australian racing. I’ve learnt a lot more over the past season than just improving athletically.”
The climber struggled initially in European racing, but found his feet in France as he took to the big mountains. His second place behind Tom Pidcock on the Planche des Belles Filles was a big confidence boost ahead of the Tour de l’Avenir, his big goal of 2019.
“To get a result heading into l’Avenir was a really good sign,” said Evans. “I wasn’t feeling great that day and I was a bit surprised with the result there. It did help with the confidence for l’Avenir.”
“I’ve never represented the national team before so that was a first. To ride with a full Australian team as well, full of guys from your country, it’s rare that happens.”
Australian riders have a strong history in the race without winning it, with riders like Jack Haig, Robert Power, Lucas Hamilton and Nick Schultz progressing to the WorldTour after strong performances in recent years.
“I started the race, not solely to ride for GC, but to keep the GC well in the picture,” said Evans. “After the rest day I had a bit of a shocker and the legs were pretty average. I got dropped over one of the climbs and then crashed trying to get back on.
“I went down hard and was on the ground for a little bit and lost 13 minutes all in one day. I hadn’t really lost any time going into that point and was still in the mix.
“To be able to turn it round that next day and get a stage win it was a nice contrast and a relief to do that.”
It was an oddity as stages go, only 29 kilometres long, straight uphill and with the last six kilometres on a narrow, paved bike path.
“I attacked on a steep part, caught a French rider with two kilometres to go and then the last 100 metres was like a wall,” said Evans.
The win put Evans in the spotlight, with teams regularly scouting the ‘race of the future’ for top young talent. Evans ambition to go to the WorldTour didn’t quite happen in 2020, but the 23-year-old secured a contract with Pro Continental squad Circus-Wanty Gobert for two years.
“I’m working on what the plan is for next year,” said Evans, ahead of securing the ride for 2020. “Obviously nothing for sure at this stage, but I’d love to go WorldTour at some point.”
“I feel I made a good progression as I moved into races better suited to my style of racing. My climbing ability is the strongest suit that I’ve got. Pure climbing races are where I do best.”
Evans fractured his elbow at the start of the 2020 season in a Bendigo bunch ride and hasn’t raced any UCI race days yet, so we have little sense of how the climber is adapting to his new settings as of yet.
By Jamie Finch-Penninger