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Aussie pair Michael Rogers and Cadel Evans enter today's first Tour de France mountain showdown from Grenoble to Couchevel mindful that the outcome might offer important clues about their future as grand tour riders. Tour dbutant Evans yesterday dubbed Tuesday's 192.5km first Alpine stage "D-Day".
Rogers has had a mixed Tour so far, with some solid performances in the Vosges mountains this weekend acting as the counterpoint to a poor opening time trial and a public slur from Quick Step boss Patrick Lefvre. Reacting to Rogers' decision to leave Quick-Step for T-Mobile, Lefvre sniffed that, thus far, the Australian could only be considered a "pseudo-champion" based on his achievements in cycling.
It could be argued that in this Tour, too, Rogers is yet to prove Lfevre wrong, although it is equally true that his opportunities thus far have been thin on the ground. That will change today for the 25 year old.
"I'm feeling very good on the climbs," Rogers, now lying 37th on GC at 6-29, admitted on Sunday. "[In the Vosges] I have been in no trouble whatsoever. Now we have to wait for the big ones. I know the next two stages well because I trained on the routes a couple of times in the build-up to the Tour. I know I keep saying that I'm waiting, waiting, waiting, but they are my tactics. When we get to the Alps, I could take a gamble. If you take a gamble and win a stage it's worth it. You have to take a risk somewhere along the line. That risk could simply be deciding to follow someone."
While Rogers has no made secret of his ambition to finish on the podium when the race alights in Paris on July 24th, Evans is more cagey. This is perhaps understandable from a man who, when he led the Giro d'Italia four days from its conclusion in 2002, appeared destined for a stellar grand tour career.
After three seasons ravaged by injury and misfortune, at 28, Evans now enters the Alps mindful that his inexperience at the Tour invites caution but also that his talent and current position, 24th on general classification, permit him to aim high. A former team-mate of Rogers at Mapei, Evans spoke on Monday of his emotions on the eve of the his first major examination of the Tour.
"I have mixed feelings: anxiety, a bit of fear of failure, and excitement about what I could do here," said the Davitamon-Lotto leader. "Tomorrow [Tuesday] I think we'll see pretty big group together on the final climb. Then T-mobile will play numbers, three of them. They'll send one man off and Armstrong will bring him back. Then they'll send another one and Armstrong will do the same again. Finally, they'll play their last card, which will probably be Ullrich.
"I'm focusing on the general classification," Evans, Ullrich's former team-mate at T-Mobile, confirmed. "To go for a stage win, I would have to beat Basso, Armstrong, Vino and all of those guys. If Vino goes, he might stay away, but if I go with him and blow that could cost me three or four positions in Paris. I don't have any plans to do 'a Rasmussen' and attack from a long way out. I'll wait until the last climb. Then, if I have the legs, I'll definitely attack."
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