Evans humbled by relentless Wiggins in France
BMC's Cadel Evans of Australia, negotiates a curve during the fourth stage of the 64th Dauphine cycling race, a 53.6 kilometers individual time trial between Villie-Morgon and Bourg-en-Bresse, central France, Thursday, June 7, 2012. (AP Photo/Claude Paris)
Cadel Evans gritted his teeth and dug deep as he passed the 10km-to-go banner in the lush and picturesque Bresse region of eastern France. The reigning Tour de France champion held a slender 10-second advantage over his lone pursuer on the road, the race leader Bradley Wiggins.
Team Sky’s Wiggins, wearing a special yellow skin-suit, was slowly gaining on his Australian rival from BMC. But Evans kept his calm and did his best at holding Wiggins at bay.
As they passed the 3km-to-go banner, Evans had extended his lead – and come the finish in Bourg-en-Bresse, Evans crossed the line 17 seconds ahead of Wiggins.
But there was one slight problem: this was no ordinary road stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné – this was an individual time trial, with Evans starting the 53.5km race-against-the-clock a full two minutes ahead of Wiggins.
Evans had not just taken 17 seconds off Wiggins. On the contrary, he had lost a whopping one minute and 43 seconds to the man now tipped by most to beat him over the French roads in July.
Wiggins was nothing short of imperious over the long and flat parcours, beating his nearest rival Tony Martin (the world time trial champion, no less) by a telling 34 seconds.
Evans may have battled to avoid the ignominy (not to mention psychological sledgehammer) of being caught and passed by his principal rival, but the 35-year-old veteran did still roll home in only the eighth-best time, well off the blistering pace set by Wiggins.
Already winner of Paris-Nice and the Tour of Romandie, the 32-year-old former track specialist is now in a commanding position to retain his Dauphiné crown – and to carry that form through to the Tour.
Wiggins leads Germany’s Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) by 38 seconds in the GC, with Evans currently fifth, 1:44 off the pace.
There are those who say Wiggins has peaked too early, who remind the world that no one since Lance Armstrong has won the Tour de France in the same year as it’s warm-up race.
Jens Voigt, the veteran German from RadioShack, was one of the riders who today on Twitter preached caution surrounding Wiggins’s current dominance.
But look at it differently: who’s to say Wiggins has indeed peaked? There’s probably no-one in the professional peloton who knows his body better than Wiggins himself; people naturally assume he’s winning because he’s peaking but what if he’s merely winning without yet peaking?
After all, Wiggins has pretty much been at the same level all season, winning every stage race he has entered while notching a catalogue of ITT wins – and even taking one bunch sprint. His potential is as exciting to British fans as it is alarming to the rest of the peloton.
To make matters worse for Evans, two of Wiggins’ Sky team-mates – Australian Michael Rogers and Brit Chris Froome – also finished in the top six on Thursday.
With the Norwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen sprinting to take Wednesday’s stage three at a canter, and the likes of world champion Mark Cavendish and Tasmanian Richie Porte expected to join the squad for the Tour, Team Sky across the board are showing quite fearsome form.
Sky’s brilliance is mirrored entirely by Evans’ BMC team, which has struggled to make any telling impact this season – despite the high-profile signings of Thor Hushovd and Philippe Gilbert.
Belgium’s Gilbert – still winless this season – has been busy in the Dauphiné, but to little avail, while Hushovd announced this week that he would sit out the Tour due to lack of fitness.
Evans’s surprise counter-attack win in Monday’s stage one certainly papered over the cracks of what has been a testing season for the Australian. This latest setback, however, will have tongues wagging.
So, does losing a huge chunk of time in the Dauphiné ITT actually matter? Well, yes and no.
Evans lost 1:09 to Wiggins and 1:20 to Tony Martin in last year’s 42.5km ITT in the Dauphiné – and yet by the time he tackled the same course on the final weekend of the Tour, he was just seven seconds slower than Martin as he seized the maillot jaune. (Wiggins, of course, was not there – having crashed out of the race with a broken collarbone.)
But seeing that the penultimate day’s time trial in this year’s Tour is very much in the same mould as the ITT we saw on Thursday in the Dauphiné – a 52km ride to Chartres run over a similar course – it’s hard not to read a lot into how the ostensible dress rehearsal went.
“I don’t know exactly how the final time trial is but obviously it’s flat and long. It’s a similar test,” Evans admitted.
“I certainly hope not to lose a minute in the Tour de France. I have some improvements to make there. I saw today that I’m a little behind the [time trial] specialists but I still have some room and some time to improve – and it’s necessary to improve.”
Of course, it could be worse: the man whom Evans pipped for the yellow jersey last year in Paris, Andy Schleck, finished more than 10 minutes adrift of Wiggins on Thursday after being blown off his bike by a huge gust of wind in the opening 10km.
If Evans thinks he’s having a hard time pleasing certain parts of the media as he bids to get into shape ahead of the Tour then he should spare a thought for Schleck, who has already been discounted by many three weeks before the grand depart.
Felix Lowe is an English photographer, writer and Arsenal fan with a penchant for pro-cycling. Eurosport writer and blogger, Felix has covered the major cycling races in the pro calendar for the past decade and is now taking up the sport himself, at the ripe age of 31.
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