With his self-confidence at an all-time high and luck finally on his side, Australia’s Cadel Evans could achieve something special at this year’s Tour de France.
Evans, a two-time Tour de France runner-up, has survived a crash-marred first week of racing which saw several contenders bow out of the race. He stands third in the overall standings, the best placing among the favourites.
The BMC team leader finished behind Alberto Contador in 2007, and Carlos Sastre beat him in 2008. Last year, he wore the yellow jersey but broke his left elbow and had to be content with a 26th-place finish on the Champs Elysees.
Evans, who had been regarded as a perennial underachiever until he silenced his critics to become world champion in 2009, looks stronger this year.
“The psychological part of it is pretty enormous,” BMC manager Jim Ochowicz said. “He changed his approach to his racing and he learned to manage his own expectations of the race.”
Evans enjoyed a perfect build-up to the Tour, racing less than usual in order to reach his peak during the sport’s gruelling three-week showcase. Although he refuses to rate himself as the favourite, his confidence is flying high.
“So far so good, the team has been great, keeping me out of trouble, and if it could continue like this I would be very, very happy,” Evans said.
While Bradley Wiggins, Christopher Horner, Alexandre Vinokourov and Jurgen Van den Broeck have all been forced to withdraw through injuries, Evans avoided all the crashes by staying constantly ahead of the pack, well protected by his teammates.
He stands two minutes and 26 seconds behind race leader Thomas Voeckler. The Schleck brothers Frank and Andy are fourth and fifth, at 2:29 and 2:37 respectively while defending champion Alberto Contador is 16th, 4:07 off the pace.
According to Ochowicz, mental toughness — the Australian’s Achilles’ heel in the past — is now one of his main assets.
“He manages this really well,” Ochowicz said. “With the racing aspect, we’ve seen a difference in his ability to handle the stress of the race last year. And he has improved on that again this year.”
Before joining BMC at the end of the 2009 season, Evans had spent five years within the Lotto team ranks. There, he was always on the attack but often criticised by pundits for his tactics.
The 34-year-old Evans, a former mountain bike specialist, decided to leave Lotto to find a better environment and to be supported by riders capable of helping him win the Tour.
“Within the BMC team, he found a serene and very laid-back atmosphere, a very American atmosphere,” BMC sports director John Lelangue said. “It surely fits Anglo-Saxon riders, and he is one of them. We also speak English when we eat together, during the briefings, on the race radio, that surely helps.”
‘A beautiful Tour’
Ochowicz said Evans’ self-confidence is also boosting the team’s morale.
“And I think our ability to be able to put a lot of resources into his race — material, staff, the right people, like in a family situation — makes it easier for him,” Ochowicz said.
Last year, Evans said his efforts in finishing fifth in the Giro d’Italia drained him for the Tour. He decided to skip the Italian race this season to focus on the Grande Boucle and arrived at the start with less than 35 days of racing in his legs.
During his Tour warmup, he showed he was capable of doing well in the high mountains with a second-place finish at the Criterium du Dauphine a few weeks ago. He also won the Tirreno Adriatico and the Tour de Romandie this season.
He didn’t wait long before demonstrating his strength at the Tour, edging out Contador in a photo finish to win the fourth stage of the race.
“We centred his whole preparation on one-week races,” Lelangue said. “It gave him confidence and he arrived at the Tour fresher, which was crucial. And what his teammates have done for him during the first week of racing strengthened his confidence. He can do a beautiful Tour.” — Sapa-AP