Cadel Evans did his Tour de France preparations no end of good after winning a two-way battle with compatriot Michael Rogers in the Criterium International on the weekend.
Reigning Tour champion Evans came out on top after the pair entered the third and final stage tied for time at the top of the standings in the two-day Corsican race.
Both Evans and Team Sky’s Rogers finished in the leading group on Saturday’s opening 89.5km stage before Evans pipped his countryman by a fraction of a second to take the 6.5km time trial in Porto-Vecchio on the same day.
Sunday’s demanding 179km stage climaxed with a summit finish on the Col de l’Ospedale and saw Evans finish comfortably in fifth place to secure the overall title.
Rogers faded on the tough climb and in doing so also conceded his second place on the podium to French stage winner and 2009 Criterium champion, Pierrick Fedrigo (FDJ).
After showing his strength both against the clock and in the hills – the two key areas in which July’s Tour will be won and lost – Evans became the first Australian to win the Criterium International.
“It’s a good indication,” Evans said of his form ahead of his season’s main target, “but we have big races still to come.”
After disappointing in the Tirreno-Adriatico stage race in Italy three weeks ago, the overall victory on the French island – which, incidentally, will host the opening three stages of the 2013 Tour – will prove a welcome tonic for Evans and his BMC team.
With Evans joined by high profile signings Philippe Gilbert and Thor Hushovd in the close season, BMC were quickly dished out the ‘super team’ moniker.
But a fraught start to the season – which hit a low point when Evans led BMC to a lowly 17th place in the team time trial in Tirreno-Adriatico – has seen the Pro Tour’s most expensively assembled squad go without a win for the first two and a half months of the campaign.
While none of the six team-mates who supported Evans in Corsica are likely to be involved in the defence of his Tour crown next July, Evans was nevertheless quick to praise them for their role in protecting him during Sunday’s decisive stage.
“As a team we worked really well today,” he said. “Today, the young guys started out and I think for them it was an honour to ride in a part of France for the yellow jersey.”
Evans will now go from team leader and GC man to ‘super domestique’ as he offers his services to Gilbert in the forthcoming Ardennes classics, before ramping up his stage race preparations with the week-long Tour of Romandie and Criterium du Dauphine.
With three months still to go until the Tour de France, Evans has plenty of time to fine tune his form and prime his fitness.
While winning a duel against Michael Rogers may mean very little in the grand
scheme of things, it’s will do wonders for the 35-year-old’s confidence – and we all know that Evans is a confidence rider, one who goes best when he’s in a good state of mind.
Seeing the likes of Frank Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan), Chris Froome (Team Sky) and Pierre Rolland (Europcar) – all possible rivals for the Australian come July – so much further down the GC in Corsica will surely have put a smile on Evans’s face.
But Evans is also a realist, a pragmatist, and not someone prone to get carried away: he knows that the hard work is still to be done.
And while he will only focus on his own form from here on in, Evans will be first to admit that a win in the Criterium International is not up there with, say, rival Bradley Wiggins of Team Sky’s overall win in Paris-Nice.