Cadel Evans: Astana the team to beat in France

Two-time runner-up welcomes Armstrong’s return

Two-time Tour de France runner-up Cadel Evans of Australia says the Astana team of Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong will be his number one threat at this year's event.

Evans was beaten to the 2007 yellow jersey by Contador, then of Discovery Channel, and last year succumbed to another Spaniard, Carlos Sastre, in the closing stages of the race.

The 30-year-old, considered Australia's most successful stage racer, admitted that, while he has added some firepower to his team, Astana will be tough contenders.

"On paper at the moment, Astana are the team to beat, that's without a doubt," Evans told reporters at the end of the Tour Down Under.

But Evans said he feels confident he can launch another serious challenge for the title in France. "I believe so, yes, and that's what I'm working for. It's still a work in progress," he said. "We'll see – ask me at the end of July."

Evans also said he was delighted with the positive effect seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong has had on cycling in Australia.

"The interest in Lance coming here has been incredible and I'm happy – it's great for a sport I love," Evans said.

Armstrong's comeback after a three and a half year hiatus didn't result in victory in Adelaide, but the 37-year-old American is nevertheless happy with his race form.

"I could have come in with expectations that could be completely unrealistic, not having the race experience in three and a half years,” Armstrong said after the fifth and penultimate stage, in which overall winner Allan Davis tightened his grip on the race leader's jersey. “I slightly exceeded expectations,"

Ahead of competing in the Giro d'Italia in May/June and the Tour de France in July, Armstrong said next month's Tour of California will provide an even stiffer test of his race form.

But he feels this week has given him a good indication of what needs to be done if he is to regain the form which saw him dominate the world's best stage racers for seven consecutive years.

Claiming he had given his all, Armstrong said his legs had finally come good after Friday's fourth stage - which saw him pay the price for attacking earlier on in the week.

But he admitted that age could finally catch up with him. "At 37 years old, you can't just get by the way you do at 27,” he said.

© AFP 2009

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