Thank heavens for Cadel Evans’s attack on the second Pyrenean stage of the Tour on Saturday. The one during the race, I mean. With Evans, it pays to be specific, for the Australian has been known to display more aggression before and after Tour stages than in their dénouement.
True to form, yesterday, he crossed the line and immediately saw a different shade of red to the one he ought to have been looking for – the one that adorns the side of his Silence-Lotto team bus.
“Ignorant members of the media say I never attack so…You know, you’ve got to take these opportunities when they come,” he said of the moment on the Port d’Envalira when he gave chase behind Sandy Casar.
Evans drew breath. Images of Fabian Cancellara furiously pointing him back in the direction of the peloton flashed in front of his mind’s eye.
“You’d think everyone in the Tour de France would want to get into a breakaway, then when they do, they carry on like three-year olds,” he went on. “It’s like ‘Ahhh, get out of the break, they’re going to chase us…’ Honestly, they’re typical bike riders’ tactics. If they want to go back to the peloton, then they can. I mean, I just saw an opportunity with the climb at the start, I had nothing to lose. But in the end it was just a big waste of energy.”
Last year it was the British press who cudgeled Cuddles. They, we, called him a wheel sucker and dummy spitter. The first of those characterizations was completely unfair, the second only partially. His 2008 “YouTube moments” require no further documentation. The performances that took him to his second consecutive runner-up finish, on the other hand, should be redefined as the gutsy, skilful efforts of a man who races his bike with as much flair as his physiology and team permit.
But that was last year. Cuddles now has a new fight on his hand. He has a new ensemble showering his every move with their scorn: the French.
“Unbelievable! Cadel Evans attacked on the climb to Andorra yesterday. Oh!” chortled L’Equipe on Saturday morning.
Disrespectful, definitely. Ignorant, perhaps. But who cared? Not legendary French directeur sportif Cyrille Guimard, who likened Evans’s surprise acceleration on the way out of Andorra on Saturday morning to “a bloke on death row smoking his last cigarette.” Or, if you prefer a more Aussified idiom, the same fellow sidling up to the bar in the Last Chance Saloon and ordering his last rum, er sorry, Bundy and Coke.
I suppose all you can say this was always likely to happen to Evans. When Armstrong returned, and Contador finally made it back to the Tour, the Australian was condemned. Condemned to disappear if not from the general classification then at least from the limelight. Doomed, also, to face yet more scorn and criticism.
The much misunderstood cadel evans: the much misunderstood cadel evansAFP/Getty Images
Was his attack on the Envalira really so stupid? The Belgian journalist Eric de Falleur of La Dernière Heure and I discussed precisely this on Sunday and came to the conclusion that, no, it wasn’t. What if, say, one of Andy Schleck’s accelerations on the Envalira had stuck, then Roman Kreuziger and Armstrong had suddenly made it across? Behind, arguably the strongest three climbing teams in the race, Astana, Liquigas and Saxo Bank would then have stopped chasing and, amid the chaos, a serviceable gap could have opened. It wouldn’t have been inconceivable for the break to then stay away and for the Astana leadership poser to hurtle to its natural conclusion.
Such talk may be as speculative as Cuddles’s attack yesterday, but you know what they say about speculating to accumulate. Also, didn’t L’Equipe say that he was desperate…
On a slightly different but connected note, I spoke at some length yesterday with Evans’s Silence Lotto directeur Roberto Damiani yesterday about the difficulty of following Contador in the mountains.
“The problem is that Contador has an unbelievable turn of pace,” Damiani said. “On the climb to Andorra, Cadel did a good attack, as did [Silence-Lotto rider] Jurgen Van Den Broeck, but Contador goes twice as fast when he attacks. It’s BOOM, and he’s away. He’s like a sprinter. It’s terrible. Lactic acid floods your legs straight away. If you try to follow, after 200 metres, you’ll explode. But he can go an extra 200 metres….”
I’ve not yet quizzed Damiani about what he made of Evans’s attack on Saturday. When I do, I promise, you’ll be the first to know.