Five months have passed since Rohan Dennis abandoned the Tour de France in mysterious circumstances, climbing off the bike seemingly without cause during stage 12, the day before the race’s major time trial.
Cadel Evans has completed a near perfect first week of the Tour de France. In one of the most brutal opening weeks to a Tour, which has seen multiple crashes and 17 riders withdraw – Cadel has come through unscathed and looking strong.
After Saturday’s 199km stage from Tomblaine to La Planche des Belles Filles – Evans trails his main GC rival Bradley Wiggins by ten seconds.
Importantly, Wiggins has now taken the yellow jersey from Cancellara. Evans, now in second place, still trails Wiggins by the same margin established a week earlier in the prologue.
He has been asked about the gap throughout this week; his answer has been that he would prefer to be in front.
However, I am not sure that this is the case. You get a bit anxious when you back a favourite in the Melbourne Cup who hits the lead in the first thousand metres, and likewise in the Tour, a lead can be hard to protect. We have seen in past Tours how the yellow jersey can be a burden for its wearer and his team.
Evans in particular has had some of his worst luck in yellow. Moreover, the man in yellow is marked more closely than any other.
Last year Evans only secured the maillot jaune in the final time trial and you get the sense he is most comfortable chasing. He is a fighter, as we saw in Saturday night’s stage.
Wiggins had the luxury of three support riders helping him up the final 5.9km climb into La Planche des Bes Filles, where the final 300m crescendo hits a gradient of 14 percent.
Wiggins’ posse included Aussies Michael Rodgers and Richie Porte and fellow Brit Christopher Froome. Froome amazingly rode over the top of Evans to win the stage, with Cadel and Wiggins in close pursuit. Evans support rider Marcus Burghardt had fallen away before the final push to the line.
We have come used to seeing Evans fighting solo against his rivals who always seem to have stronger team support. Evans noted the disparity when he commented after the stage “We could have taken a more aggressive role in the race, but when you see [Wiggins] has three guys with him and I’ve got one or I’m isolated already, what can you do?
It was a category 1 climb but there were some flat sections, and when you have teammates you’re at a greater advantage. It might be a different case on a more consistent gradient. It showed the strength of their team.”
It may have showed the strength of the Sky team but it also showed the strength of Cadel as an individual. We saw in last year’s Tour that Cadel’s mental strength is unrivalled in the peloton.
As Evans alluded to in his comments, it is still to be seen whether Wiggins can ‘live with’ him when the mountains get longer and steeper over the next two weeks.
Like a good stayer, I think that Evans is positioned perfectly at the front of the pack with his main rival in his sights.