Cadel Evans is back in winning form, having taken out the Critérium International over the weekend. Cadel’s victory, his first of the season, shows his preparation for the Tour de France is back on schedule.
The Critérium, not a major race by any means, is a straightforward three-stage affair, this year raced through Corsica. Cadel won in straightforward fashion.
A comfortable finish in the main bunch in stage one, and a narrow time-trial stage victory over compatriot Michael Rogers in stage two, gave Evans the race lead before the final stage. Stage three, featuring a mountaintop finish at Col de l’Ospedale, was always going to decide the race, and Evans finished strongly in the lead group of four riders to claim his first victory for 2012.
Rogers faded slightly on the final climb to finish eight seconds behind the leaders, claiming third place overall. Rogers has been one of the unluckiest men in pro cycling over the past few seasons, so it’s pleasing to see him back in some form.
Evans has started 2012 in quieter fashion than 2011 (this time last year he’d won Tirreno-Adriatico), and he has publicly stated that his off-season was not as smooth as last year (the extra demands on a Tour de France champion, and his family’s adoption of a child, would have provided understandable distractions).
But the signs of improvement are encouraging, and there is a lot of racing between now and the pointy end of July. A steady progression, putting in solid miles of racing without overcooking the legs, is the way to go.
How does Cadel’s form compare to that of his expected rivals for the Tour? Well, there are three contenders already in serious form, and a couple who haven’t shown anything.
Alejandro Valverde, Bradley Wiggins and Vincenzo Nibali have all won major races already this year, and been consistently in the top places in others. Denis Menchov has been consistent without setting the world alight.
By way of contrast, Andy Schleck and his brother Frank have both been virtually unsighted in the peloton, suggesting they are both in heavy training and not overly concerned with early results.
This is not to suggest Frandy Schleck won’t come good. There is a hell of a lot of training, racing and sleeping that needs to happen before we get into serious Tour predictions.
However, it’s worth pointing out that Cadel’s form line is looking respectable compared to his major opposition. Evans has his first victory for 2012, but he only needs to win one more race to consider 2012 a success. He will, rightly or wrongly, be judged entirely on the Tour de France.
The World Tour now shifts its major focus to the cobbles of Belgium and Northern France, where the strong men of the classics will fight it out. Evans will be hoping his victory can inject some life into his BMC team-mates, particularly Philippe Gilbert and Thor Hushovd, as they take on the rampaging Tom Boonen.
From Evans’ point of view, with some pressure relieved, he can get on with the job of peaking for July.