Back in 2007 Geoff Barrett was just an anonymous education consultant who, like the rest of us, enjoyed cycling in his spare time. But over the past seven years this likeable Western Australian has become one of the most recognisable fans in world cycling, perhaps behind only the ubiquitous and seemingly ageless Diablo himself, Didi Senft.
Geoff is no ordinary teacher. He has an alter ego; a stalker of sorts, one that likes to dress up in public. Since witnessing a devastated Cadel Evans on the Champs Elysees in 2007, having fallen just 23 seconds short of claiming the Tour de France, he’s been the guy in the fluffy green crocodile suit following Evans around the World Tour, aka Crikey Cadel.
I bumped into Geoff, quite literally, at the start line of Stage Two at this year’s Tour Down Under in the swanky Adelaide suburb of Unley. After fighting off a bunch of kids chasing selfies with the croc (he has a Facebook page and uses the hashtag #SpotTheCroc if you’re interested) I managed to spend about 15 minutes with him and discovered a man not nearly as crazy as you might imagine, and one about to be faced with quite a dilemma. For when his very reason for existence, Cadel Evans, hangs up his racing cleats for good this Sunday afternoon, Geoff may well be forced to hang up his reptile suit as well.
“I have no idea what I’ll do after that, or who I’ll support to be honest, it’s a good question.”
If Geoff does decide to give it all away, the croc suit surely commands pride of place in a sports exhibit of some kind, or even the National Museum in Canberra? It may not have the longevity of Senft’s horns and pitchfork, but it’s travelled the world, witnessed multiple Tours of France, ridden around the Champs Elysees and even been seen atop Alp d’Huez, Ventoux and, just last year, the mighty Stelvio as part of an impromptu trip to the 2014 Giro d’Italia. “I only went because Cadel was there,” Geoff is quick to add with a smile. “I did that instead of the 2014 Tour.”
Given the croc suit is by no means the coolest outfit to be wearing on a roadside at the height of summer, I suggest it may need a very good clean before being out on display anywhere. “Yeah, it gets pretty hot some days, it’s like a sleeping bag inside,” Geoff admits. “I sweat a fair bit and it pools in my shoes (green Crocs, of course). But funnily enough, it doesn’t smell too bad.”
In the early days it’s fair to say Cadel Evans and the rest of his BMC entourage thought Geoff was certifiably crazy. “The first few times at the 2009 Tour they just looked at me like I was a bit of a nut-job,” he remembers. “At that stage I was only chasing Cadel around France with an inflatable crocodile that I’d picked up from Australian Geographic, not the suit.”
Why a crocodile?
“Since I went to my first Tour in 2002 – that time I had a green sign that said “Go Robbie (McEwan) Aussie Green in Paris” – I noticed there were more and more Australians heading over to watch each year, pretty much all carrying boxing kangaroos. I wanted to do something different and thought, well, Cadel is originally from croc country, so let’s go with that. Then after the 2009 race I thought to myself, ‘next time I’m coming back as crocodile’ and in 2011 I did, that’s when all the planets aligned. I had this suit and a bunch of people around to help support me and I first bumped into the BMC guys on Stage 10 I think it was, it was pouring with rain and I escorted their team bus to the start line. Cadel went on to win that Tour and it just kept going from there.”
Nowadays Evans and his team-mates know Geoff as far more than just a roadside nutter from WA, and he’s met them on many occasions in many different parts of the world. This includes Andy Riis and Georges Lüchinger (BMC Chief Communications Officer) who, clearly, know good publicity when they see it.
“I’ve met Andy Riis twice, once here at the Tour Down Under and another time at an after party in Paris. He was like, “We love the crocodile!”
Will we see Geoff at Cadel’s final professional race this week in Geelong? “Of course, I’ll be there,” he says. “In fact I’ll even be riding in the People’s Ride on the Saturday.” It remains to be seen whether he’ll be in the croc suit or not.
After that, who knows what he’ll do?