Among the afficionados, Cadel Evans’ place on the list of Australian sporting heroes is the subject of considerable debate.
But in Melbourne on Friday there was no doubt among the 100,000 or so who turned out to welcome the country’s first Tour de France champion – to them Evans is clearly No.1.
Almost three weeks after he pedalled to victory on the Champs Elysees, Evans got on his bike for a celebratory cycle along a slightly less famous boulevard in front of a much more appreciative crowd.
Wearing the same yellow jersey he did in Paris, Evans didn’t so much cycle along St Kilda Rd as get passed from hand-to-hand.
He zig-zagged his way down the street, shaking hands and offering high-fives to the crowds lining the short route to a packed Federation Square.
But the crowd that stood eight and 10-deep on the roadside offering their hands and their praise were nothing compared to what was to come.
Another 60,000 had crammed into Federation Square to make the welcome complete.
“To say I’m overwhelmed … that’d be the understatement of the month,” Evans said.
“It would be great to shake every hand, but the next Tour is only 11 months away.
“Thank you each and every one of you, thank you so so much. It’s an honour to be here today.”
And he acknowledged the lengths people went to for their part of history.
“This is great, fantastic, everyone’s missing out on school and work, right?” he said.
“I’m very proud to be able to bring back this jersey and we can celebrate it together.”
Victorian premier Ted Baillieu told him no Australian had ever produced a greater performance.
“You are a champion and you are the greatest,” Mr Baillieu said.
The man who had conquered the world on his bike proved equally accomplished with microphone.
Asked if there had been one moment since his victory when he’d been able to experience true satisfaction, Evans knew exactly what to say.
“Right now,” he replied, and got a deafening cheer.
The crowd that made this a celebration to rival the biggest Melbourne has seen was made up of grandmothers, including his own, mothers with babies, fathers with kids on their shoulders and a large contingent of lycra-clad cycling sympathisers.
Through it all, the bloke who made this flying visit to his home town mostly so he could get a hug from his mum, enhanced his already lofty standing.
Mr Baillieu said Evans had earned the right to be on first-name terms with the nation – along with the likes Dawn, Don, Betty, Rod and Cathy. Otherwise known as Fraser, Bradman, Cuthbert, Laver and Freeman.
To Evans, a humble and emotional champion, the comparisons are flattering and appreciated, even if a little awkwardly.
As he received yet another cheer from the crowd, the tears that had flowed following his Tour de France success threatened to reappear.
“I feel that all this time …. I knew I had the nation behind me … it’s been a great ride and it’s not over yet,” he said.