Cadel Evans spent his first day in the Tour de France yellow jersey being treated like a rock star – although there was at least one vital ingredient missing.
“I don’t see any screaming girls here!” said the Australian, after being proudly presented by his Silence-Lotto team to the tune of some rather dated, but well-known Aussie pop music at a fancy, sun-drenched ceremony on Tuesday.
Evans took the race’s big prize after the second of two stages in the Pyrenees on Monday, and will start Wednesday’s 11th stage – following Tuesday’s rest day – with a one-second lead on Luxembourg’s Frank Schleck of CSC. With three tough stages in the Alps to come, as well as a potentially decisive penultimate stage time trial, the battle for the race’s big prize is only just beginning.
Evans was happy to soak up the adulation, admitting he had received hundreds of messages from well-wishers who have been following his progress since beginning the race as the favourite. But he knows there is plenty to do if he is to hold off at least three big rivals in the shape of Russia’s two-time Tour of Spain winner Denis Menchov, Spaniard Carlos Sastre and his CSC teammate Schleck.
“It’s certainly not over yet, it’s more than one step to get to Paris,” said the 31-year-old. “For me the planning (for the rest of the race) starts tomorrow, but we’ll be riding to defend the jersey.”
Evans’ rivals have highlighted potential weaknesses in the fact that his Silence team will not stand up to the likes of CSC, whose pace on Monday’s 10th stage helped virtually end Alejandro Valverde’ yellow jersey dream. And Evans acknowledged he will have to watch Sastre and Menchov carefully.
“Menchov has won the Tour of Spain and is a proven performer. I think he’ll probably move up GC (general classification) the closer we get to Paris.”
Menchov is currently in fourth place at 57secs behind Evans, just behind American Christian Vande Velde, who has surprised even himself by sitting in third position at 38sec adrift at this stage of the race. Evans, however, is more concerned with Menchov and Sastre – although he admits he will have to keep a close eye on Schleck, who missed out on the yellow jersey by just a second on the 10th stage.
On paper, CSC have one of the strongest teams in the race and have the numerical advantage over Evans in the mountains where several of their riders will look to put the Aussie into the red.
“I wouldn’t say I haven’t given it a thought yet,” admitted Evans. “CSC have strength in numbers, and Sastre has shown in the past that he comes good in the third week.
“We’re not going to let (Frank) Schleck get away by himself, but there will be a few other people bouncing around the top five.”
Silence team manager Marc Sergeant is also aware of the obstacles in their way.
“Tactics are going to be very important over the coming stages. I know some people have doubts, but we are very determined and know what we have to do,” said the Belgian. “One of the good things is that there are five riders within a minute of each other in the top five, so we will not be the only ones to have to take control of the race.”
So far, Evans has got where he has by riding consistently, without the panache of the super-climbers like Italian starlet Riccardo Riccò. And he said that despite wearing the yellow jersey, he is unlikely to change that style.
“I read a quote once from Lance Armstrong which said that ‘wearing the yellow jersey is just another day at the office’,” said Evans. “I’m a GC (general classification) rider, a pure GC rider. Lance had a very strong team that could eliminate all his rivals before he even had to attack.”
© AFP 2008