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.
The Tour de France 2012 is now two weeks old and some concerning signs have emerged for our defending champion, Cadel Evans.
There are not any obvious deficiencies in his own form, but his main rival, Bradley Wiggins, is looking the most likely to wear yellow into Paris.
From the early stages of the Tour, it became apparent that Team Sky had the ability to control the tempo of the peleton, a huge advantage for the incumbent maillot jaune.
If you cast our mind back to last year’s race, you will recall that Cadel was fighting against two very strong riders in the brothers Schleck, both general classification contenders deep into the race.
Similarly, this year Cadel has to deal with Wiggins and his countryman Christopher Froome – another GC double act. Some have even argued that Froome is in better form than his more fancied teammate and should be leading the team – a nice problem to have for Sky.
Cadel was stalking the leaders at the same stage of the race last year but the essential difference is that his rivals in the 2011 edition, Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador, were inferior time trial riders.
He could therefore confidently take a deficit into the final time trial. In contrast, Wiggins (due his track riding back ground) is one of the strongest time trialists in the world, as he proved in Stage 9, the 41.5km time Trial from the Arc-et-Senans to Besançon.
In that stage he blew the field away, finishing 1:43 ahead of Evans who finished a respectable sixth.
Rather than taking a deficit into the final time trial, if Evans is to have any chance this year, he will need to have some time up his sleeve, a very tough ask if the first two weeks are anything to go by.
This raises the question – can Evans still win the Tour de France? My head tells me no but my heart says he still has a chance. Ever since his famous win in the World Championships in 2009 near his home town in the Mendrisio region, Cadel has ridden with palpable self-belief.
That self-belief has fundamentally changed his tactics. He was previously a passive rider but he now has the ability to take on a race, to attack, and if need be, to work alone.
He is one of the rare riders who can change the course of a grand tour on the strength of his own two legs.
This week the race enters the Pyrenees – the true mountain stages. Those stages will present Evans with opportunities to attack. So far, Wiggins has been able to reel him in when he has made a charge but the gradients will get steeper and the climbs longer. While Wiggins has no doubt become a well-rounded road rider, Evans may still be able to hurt the ex-track rider in the highest mountains.