What the 2013 Tour de France route means for Cadel Evans
Cadel Evans second in the Giro - is another big year in store for him?
The 2011 Tour de France champion Cadel Evans has a better chance of winning the 2013 Tour than he did defending his crown in 2012.
But the Australian will still be an outside bet to ride into Paris on the evening of 21st July in the yellow jersey or even first in his team.
Evans was present at the unveiling of the Tour 2013 route in Paris this week and stood up on the stage along other winners in recent years – the likes of Bradley Wiggins, Alberto Contador and Andy Schleck – as well as key figures such as Mark Cavendish and Philippe Gilbert.
For the race’s 100th edition, the organisers have come up with a glorious route that is both innovative and nostalgic.
Starting without a prologue on the race’s first ever visit to Corsica and ending with a special nocturnal Parisian stage in which the famous Champs Elysees circuit is extended to include the Arc de Triomphe, the 2013 Tour features four mountaintop finishes, two individual time trials and one team time trial.
Highlights include a Sunday afternoon Bastille Day showdown on the fearsome Mont Ventoux (stage 15), a time trial that finishes in the shadow of the iconic Mont Saint-Michel (stage 11) and an unprecedented double ascent of Alpe d’Huez in one afternoon (stage 18).
During the presentation, the audience was shown a reel of the best moments of the 2012 race – including the moment Evans cracked in stage 11 of the race on the brutal Col de la Croix de Fer and then, five days later, in the Pyrenees, where he waved goodbye to any chance of a podium finish.
Evans eventually finished seventh overall, 15:49 behind winner Wiggins. That seems like a huge gap on paper but it came on the back of a season hampered by sinus problems and poor form.
It can’t be overlooked that Evans won the Tour in 2011 after bouncing back from finishing 45 minutes down in 30th in 2009 and 50 minutes down in 25th in 2010.
Be that as it may, does even a fully fit Evans, at 36, have enough left in the tank to become the second oldest Tour winner in history? (Belgian Firmin Lambot won in 1922 aged 36 – but his birthday came a month before the Australian’s).
In a word: no.
Evans’s win in 2011 combined careful damage limitation in the hills with a tactical masterclass, the BMC leader boldly leaving it until the penultimate stage to overturn a deficit on Andy Schleck and take the yellow jersey into Paris after a superb final time trial.
But that was a year in which Contador was riding half empty following his exertions in the Giro and Wiggins was watching from home after breaking a collarbone in the opening week.
Wiggins won the Tour in 2012 because of his supreme time trial riding and a bullish, metronomic, almost robotic performance by his Sky team. In team-mate Chris Froome he also had both his main rival and his main weapon.
Where 2012 had more than 100 kilometres of individual time trials and only three summit finishes, 2013 has many more climbs and just two short ITTs: the flat 32km ride to Mont Saint-Michel and the 33km mountain time trial from Embrum to Chorges in stage 17 – billed as the “toughest ever Tour time trial” by race organisers.
Garmin-Sharp boss Jonathan Vaughters summed things up perfectly when he told Cyclingnews that the 2013 route “is suited to a strong climber who can time trial well and who has a strong team” whereas “this year was suited to a strong time triallist who could defend”.
Although one of the few bright parts of Evans’s 2012 season was a victory in the three-day Criterium International in Corsica, the 2013 Tour’s opening few days will be a challenge for a rider of such a nervous disposition.
As Evans admitted at the launch: “To race on those roads in Corsica in the Tour peloton – that’s going to be very tough.”
Should the Australian get through those stages unscathed then there’s the matter of the team time trial in Nice. At just 25km in length, the time gaps will not be enormous and BMC should be up there with the top teams – although probably not as strong as Sky or Garmin.
The mountains will, however, be a problem for Evans. The two stages in the Pyrenees will push Cadel to the limit of his powers – and should he hold on (plus limit his losses in the ITT), then stage 15 to Mont Ventoux will be critical.
The clear problem for Evans is that he’s not the kind of rider who will take serious time from his rivals in the mountains – and as such, it’s hard to see where exactly he can chip away.
If one ascent of Alpe d’Huez was not daunting enough, two in the same afternoon ask serious questions for someone carrying the amount of bulk that Evans has. Schleck would be looking at this stage with hungry eyes were it not for the dangerous descent down the back of the Col de Sarenne.
A final week that includes a mountain time trial and three back-to-back Alpine stages will make it one of the hardest final weeks to any Tours of the previous 100 years. Whoever wins the race will have to be a rider at the peak of their powers, and not one whose are on the wane.
Asked who he thinks will star in 2013, Evans remained coy. “I won’t say a favourite for the course yet – it’s still very early to say – but I would say it will be more of an all-round rider than 2012 but that’s not to say Sky can’t repeat again.”
If Sky do repeat their 2012 win then it will probably not be with the man who stood atop the podium in Paris last July. Dressed in an outrageously camp purple Paul Smith overcoat with a dual flappy triangular winged collars, the defending champion was present at the route launch on Wednesday.
But while Wiggo’s jacket remained firmly buttoned-up throughout proceedings, the Briton did open up about his chances – or lack of – with admirable candour.
“It was all about winning one Tour. I’ve done that now and I’m very proud the way I did it,” said Wiggins before revealing his intention to concentrate on the Giro d’Italia next season.
“The Giro’s a beautiful race and I’d love to win that pink jersey along with the yellow jersey.
“But I’ll be there at the start [of the Tour], that’s for sure. If Chris [Froome] is the leader then we go for it. But my priority is the Giro. It’s become apparent that it’s very difficult to compete in two Grand Tours and so it’s very likely I’ll be there in a helping capacity.”
While BMC manager Jim Ochowicz stressed on Wednesday that his team would be going to the Tour with Evans as the team captain and the American Tejay van Garderen as back up, things may pan out differently.
“Cadel is very motivated and this is a great course for him,” Ochowicz told Cyclingnews. “Tejay is still mentoring under Cadel and we don’t want to put the pressure on him yet.”
Van Garderen may still be Evans’s protege but last year’s white jersey finished two places above his mentor in July – and like Froome, could well have done even better had he been let off the leash.
Interviewed himself at the launch, Van Garderen said the race was “definitely harder than last year” and stressed his team were “going to have to prepare differently”.
“I like it. It is suited to a rider like me. I’m up for the challenge,” Van Garderen added.
Between now and next July, BMC might well realise that they should follow Sky’s lead: just as Wiggins has conceded to Froome, perhaps it’s time for Evans to give way to Van Garderen. After all, there are no teams in the ProTour who would say no to having Bradley Wiggins or Cadel Evans as their Plan B.
Of course, it is all immaterial: Contador will still start the race as overwhelming favourite – yet an in-form Froome should push him.
The rest, I fear, will be also-rans.
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.