BMC and Evans just not good enough
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)
It’s pretty safe to say that Cadel Evans is not going to win the Tour de France this year. This is hardly an opinion – it’s as close to a fact as something hypothetical can get.
Barring an unlikely misfortune taking out both the two top riders in the GC – Sky pair Brad Wiggins and Chris Froome – Evans will not ride into Paris wearing yellow like last year. He won’t even come close.
In fact, it would even take some kind of miraculous mishap for the Australian to better third-place Vincenzo Nibali, who so far has looked comfortably superior than the defending champion.
Although we still have two gruelling back-to-back Pyrenean stages coming up after the rest day, Evans is now relying on others crumbling more than himself excelling – and that is a dangerous game.
It’s like entering the final game of a football season knowing that not only do you have to win your remaining match convincingly, your main rivals also have to lose their corresponding fixture (and they’re playing a team everyone expects them to beat).
In this situation, all you can do is play your own game, keep your own side of the bargain, and hope that everything else falls into place. Things are essentially out of Cadel’s hands.
We saw glimpses of the attacking spirit of Evans in the Alps, most notably with his attempt to pull away of his rivals on the Col du Glandon in stage 11.
He managed to open up a small gap as he rejoined team-mate Tejay van Garderen out ahead – but as soon as it became glaringly obvious that Cuddles was struggling to keep up with the pace of the young American, I knew his attack would not only be reeled in but that Evans would lose time at the finish.
And so it was. Distanced on the final ascent to La Toussuire, Evans lost his second place to Froome and dropped off the podium into fourth place. “I hate coming fourth,” Evans harrumphed on the second rest day in Pau. But anything better seems unlikely now.
On paper, Wednesday’s stage to Bagneres de Luchon could shake things up. Almost 200km long, it features four of the most iconic climbs in the Pyrenees – the Col d’Aubisque, Col du Soulor, Col du Tourmalet and Col de Peyresourde.
But going too early would be to commit the same mistake Evans made on the Col du Glandon – while leaving it to the last climb would be risky given the 16km run down to the finish where things could come back together.
Thursday’s short but beastly 144km stage to Peyragudes with its summit finish may be a better option – yet if Sky still have numbers going into the final climb, then their leading duo will be hard to crack.
The clear obstacle for both Evans and the other second-tier GC riders is the fact that Sky are just so formidable.
With Christian Knees and Edvald Boasson Hagen driving the pace coming into the hills and Australian pair Mick Rogers and Richie Porte riding robotically on the front as the roads head up, Sky have the upper hand coming into each major mountain – and that is even before the yellow jersey and his ‘understudy’ Froome come into play.
As Evans’s succinctly put it – Sky are “making it difficult to do stuff”.
“Sky have just shown their strength and they’ve all really come out firing,” he said. “Their seven riders on the front have been incredible. There performance in the time trial from their two leaders was also incredible.
“Their riders are all on the best form of their lives. They ride a continuous tempo especially on the climbs.”
The likes of Nibali, Evans and fifth-place Jurgen van den Broeck have to try and disrupt Sky’s rhythm. But this is easier said than done: both the Liquigas and Lotto teams of Nibali and van den Broeck are part set up to help their sprinters Peter Sagan and Andre Greipel, while Evans’s own BMC team are – with the exception of van Garderen – largely invisible in the mountains.
If you do manage to disrupt Sky’s game, then the next thing one of the GC pretenders will have to do is drive a wedge between Wiggins and Froome. But while it would be nigh-on impossible to expect both men to crack – were one to fade, then it would only strengthen further the other’s GC ambitions.
BMC team manager John Lelangue nevertheless remained upbeat on the rest day, putting a positive spin on his team’s performance by stressing their full quota and their offensive tactics. “We have Cadel close to the podium for the moment but we still have the two Pyrenean king stages of the Tour,” he added optimistically.
These are just empty words. The truth is that last year Cadel Evans did not win the Tour de France because of the showing of his team – he did so because he was the best individual rider in a race in which no one team stood out for its strength in depth.
This year BMC have bought pretty much the same team as last year – but it just isn’t good enough in a year where i) Evans is nowhere near the same level individually, and where ii) there’s a team like Sky in the mix.
Team Sky this year are incomparable to what they were like last year. Only three riders from this year’s dominant force featured in 2011 – one of whom, Wiggins, crashed out. Rogers and Porte hadn’t found their calling. Froome, a relative unknown, was also absent; his breakthrough in the Vuelta still months away.
In one year, Sky have completely changed the game. They have raised the bar so high most teams in the Tour look like Pro Continental outfits in comparison.
BMC have been totally outclassed – in virtually every department.
They are a team which greedily spent big on riders like Thor Hushovd and Philippe Gilbert (both without a win this season) instead of signing some high calibre climbers ahead of a Tour that was only ever going to be won in the mountains, what with Wiggins such a dominant time triallist.
They are a team which (in this case, understandably) chose sentiment over sense – picking George Hincapie for a record 18th Tour instead of a rider who could aid Evans in the hills.
They are a team reduced to having a masseur struggle to change their leader’s back wheel after he had to wait more than a minute for a second team-mate to arrive at the top of a mountain (afterthe first, van Garderen, refused to offer his wheel).
They are a team whose grip on events was perfectly encapsulated by manager Jim Ochowicz falling over in a roadside ditch twice while Evans flatted a third time en route to Foix.
In short, in a Tour that looks to be won because of the brilliance of one team, BMC are just not good enough for a leader who is not the same individual rider he was 12 months ago and whose demise in the GC is entirely logical.
Collectively, Sky are better than BMC; individually, Sky have two better riders than Evans, who may not even be the strongest Australian of the two squads. It’s hard to see how the defending champion can turn things round now.
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.