Key ingredients all there for another Evans triumph
Cadel Evans in the yellow jersey in the 2011 Tour de France (Courtesy BMC - Tim de Waele)
The pieces of the puzzle are gradually falling into place for Cadel Evans, who this week said he felt his BMC team for the Tour de France was stronger than the one which helped deliver him to the yellow jersey last year.
Five riders who rode alongside Evans in the 2011 Tour – Marcus Burghardt, George Hincapie, Amaël Moinard, Manuel Quinziato and Michael Schär – are returning as Evans goes for back-to-back wins in the world’s biggest cycling race.
Joining the five stalwarts and 35-year-old Australian are three riders new to BMC this year – Steve Cummings, Philippe Gilbert and Tejay van Garderen.
BMC sporting director John Lelangue has stressed that the team has one aim: “To defend Cadel’s title and lead him to the podium in Paris”.
Meanwhile, Evans himself said: “I now know that I can win and my race this year is almost identical to what I did last year. We’ll have a yet stronger team for this year’s Tour.”
The presence of Gilbert, however, suggests that BMC are entering the race with more than the “one aim” underlined by Lelangue. The Belgian was signed by the American-funded, Swiss-based team in the winter on the back of a stellar season at Lotto.
Gilbert’s arrival – alongside that of former world champion Thor Hushovd – showed BMC’s desire to improve their presence in the classics as well as compete for stage victories in races like the Tour de France.
“We want to have several cards to play,” BMC owner Andy Rhis told me back in January at the Tour Down Under. “We want to make the team more regular so that we’re not depending on just one person.”
Rhis underlined two key areas where BMC could improve – in the classics and winning stages. “We are not really a sprinter team but we want to win things. Thor and Philippe fitted well in this area because they can both win the classics and they can both win stages.”
So far, things have not gone according to plan. Neither rider has a win to his name after suffering to live up to the lofty expectation that came with such exacting contracts. That Hushovd, suffering with a virus, has been left out of the Tour squad would probably have been welcomed with open arms by Evans – but Gilbert’s role in this summer’s headline event remains to be seen.
Winner of the opening stage of last year’s Tour, it’s hard to see Gilbert put aside his personal ambitions in service of Evans for the entire duration of the race.
An alleged fractious relationship between the pair was said to be behind Evans’s decision to leave Lotto three years ago – but not much should be read into this. Evans left simply to be part of a team pretty much entirely built around him and with the aim of winning the Tour – something he achieved with such tactical precision, collective spirit and individual expertise last July.
As Rhis also said back in January: “Cadel is not chasing the GC from the first day, so there will be scope [for stage wins].”
To understand the true strengths of the BMC roster, you have to compare it to that of the team belonging to Evans’s principal rival, Bradley Wiggins.
Team Sky have been on blistering form all season, delivering Wiggins to three stage race titles (Tour of Romandie, Paris-Nice and the Dauphiné) while seeing the likes of Mark Cavendish and Edvald Boasson Hagen pick up myriad stage wins along the way.
Norway’s Boasson Hagen, winner of two stages in last year’s Tour, is a rider not dissimilar to Gilbert – and despite both Sky and BMC focused on snaring the yellow jersey, you would think these two explosive riders will have their chances.
Where the teams clearly differ is in Sky’s ostensible greed.
Gilbert wore the green jersey for periods of last year’s race but will surely not target the points classification this year – a prize the absent Hushovd picked up twice in Paris.
Team Sky, on the other hand, will harbour ambitions for world champion Cavendish, who – like Evans – will want to deliver a back-to-back victory in his jersey of choice.
To accommodate Cavendish’s quest for sprint wins and the maillot vert, Sky will take German lead-out man Bernard Eisel, whereby depriving team leader Wiggins of perhaps an extra body.
Again, not much should be read into this: Wiggins will still have a superb core of riders around him, including Australians Michael Rogers and Richie Porte, Vuelta a Espana runner-up Chris Froome, German unit Christian Knees and experienced Belarusian Kanstantin Siutsou.
It’s a powerful quintet of riders who all trained alongside Wiggins on Sky’s last camp in Tenerife – and certainly a match for BMC. The strength in depth was underlined at the Dauphiné, where Sky had three riders (Wiggins, Rogers and Froome) in the top four, plus Porte coming home in ninth.
While Evans will be well aware of this, it is not something that will phase the Australian. Evans is far too experienced to know that it’s not the form of others that counts – it’s how you’re riding yourself and how your own team functions.
By taking five riders who rode alongside him to glory last July, Evans is putting his faith in a tried-and-tested quintet which, to use the cliché, has “been there, done that”.
Is Evans’s stable BMC team stronger? Some may say that American George Hincapie – riding an 18th successive Tour – is past his best, but his inclusion is not merely a sentimental one for the record books.
Hincapie has years of experience in delivering riders to the top of the podium in Paris (just ask Lance Armstrong) and he will be keen to do it one more time before hanging up his cycling shoes at the end of the season.
But it is another American who should put a smile across the distinctive face of Evans most: Tejay van Garderen. The 23-year-old joined BMC from HTC-Highroad this year after becoming the first American to wear the Tour’s fabled king of the mountains jersey in the 2011 race. The best young rider in March’s Paris-Nice, van Garderen – tipped by many, including Rhis himself, to be a future GC rider himself – will add steel to the BMC roster.
Finally, BMC have their own “inside man” in experienced Englishman Steve Cummings. A close friend of Wiggins from their track days (both men were part of the British Team Pursuit quartet that took silver in the 2004 Athens Olympics), Cummings rode at Team Sky for two years before joining BMC.
While workhorse Cummings has only ridden one Tour de France (in 2010), the 31-year-old’s familiarity with both compatriot Wiggins and the British team could prove invaluable over the three weeks in France.
And with such strength in depth then the team can easily afford giving a rider of Gilbert’s calibre a little free rein to ride off in search of the stage wins that would be the icing on the cake should Evans secure the Maillot Jaune in July.
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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