Evans faces first Tour de France test
A vicious 5.9km climb in the Vosges mountains will be the first true test of Cadel Evans’ Tour de France title defence.
The 199km seventh stage on Saturday from Tomblaine ends at the ski resort of La Planche des Belles Filles.
The category-one climb to the summit has an average gradient of 8.5 per cent and, at one point, rears up to 28 per cent.
It is a particularly spicy entree for the key later days through the Alps and Pyrenees.
“It will be the first big difference,” said John Lelangue, the director of Evans’ BMC team.
“It’s not the most difficult stage, but it’s the first after a lot of stages where we were in a big gear and on the flat roads.
“So it will be interesting to see … the approach is pretty important there.”
As usual, crashes have punctuated the first week of the Tour as nervous teams and ambitious sprinters jostle for position.
But Evans and BMC have done a great job to keep out of trouble.
By contrast, his main rival and title favourite Brad Wiggins lost a key lieutenant when Sky rider Kanstantin Sivtsov crashed out.
“I just consider my team for the moment and I’m happy my team is complete,” Lelangue said.
But now the shadow boxing is over and the overall contenders must show their hands.
Going into stage seven on Friday, Wiggins was second overall and held the same 10-second lead over Evans that was established in the prologue time trial.
“It’s pretty good, I would say – we have Cadel and Tejay (van Garderen) in good placings, avoiding all the crashes,” Lelangue said.
“(We’re) riding in the front like a sprinter’s team and making a good train.
“He looks relaxed, he looks confident and we have the whole team there.
“No one has crashed, except for Philippe (Gilbert) on (the third) stage, so I think we can be happy.
“The first week of the Tour, it’s always risky business, so being in this situation is not bad for the moment.”
New Australian team Orica-GreenEDGE do not feature an overall contender, but Peter Weening is a good climber and they will keep their options open on these sorts of hilly stages.
“We still open the book for that one, but it’s not a focus,” said Orica-GreenEDGE director Matt White.
The name of the finish looks pretty, but it has a grisly origin.
Roughly translated, it means “the plank of the beautiful girls”.
Legend has it that in 1636, a group of local girls escaped to the mountain to avoid marauding Swedish mercenaries.
When they were discovered, they drowned themselves in a pond.
The head of the mercenaries had fallen for one of the girls and he used a dagger to write an epitaph for them on a plank of wood.© AAP 2013
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