Australia’s Cadel Evans struck a first blow to Alejandro Valverde at the Tour de France Tuesday after leaving his yellow jersey rival trailing on the fourth stage time trial.
Germany’s Stefan Schumacher of the Gerolsteiner team stunned the pre-race favourites to win the 29.5km race against the clock in a time of 35 minutes, 44 seconds.
However, Silence-Lotto rider Evans, and Luxembourg’s yellow jersey hopeful Kim Kirchen of Team Columbia, made sure they stole a share of the limelight in what was the yellow jersey favourites’ first big appointment.
Kirchen, an outsider for the race’s big prize, finished second at 18 seconds behind Schumacher, with Scotland’s David Millar in third also at 18.
Evans was fourth at 27, while Valverde, who wore the yellow jersey for the first three days after winning the first stage, was way off the pace finishing in 23rd place at 1:34.
Having started the day with a one-second lead on Evans, the Spaniard is now 1:07 behind the Australian, who finished runner-up to Spaniard Alberto Contador at last year’s Tour, where Valverde finished sixth.
At this early stage and ahead of crucial stages in the Pyrenees then the Alps Evans is not getting too carried away.
“It’s a good start but we’re a long, long way to Paris,” said Evans. “For now, it’s a good start. Every second, and every minute I can gain on him (Valverde) is very good.”
Valverde had a comparatively slow start, and never really recovered over the rolling, windy course. But he has warned there is plenty of racing left.
“I started slowing and saved my strength for the final half. It was okay and things went better than expected,” said the 28-year-old. “We’re only four days into this Tour, so we can’t judge things too much from what’s happened so far. There’s still a lot of Tour ahead of us and still a lot of Valverde that the world will see.
“I didn’t want to lose too much time to my GC rivals, so I’m pretty satisfied how things went,” he added.
Russian Denis Menchov, who lost 38 seconds to his big rivals on Monday’s stage, did well to finish just behind Cancellara and is now 11th overall at 1:12 behind Schumacher and 51 seconds behind Evans.
Spaniard Carlos Sastre, another yellow jersey contender, lost 1:16 to Evans and is now 1:22 behind Evans. Sastre, of CSC, was however optimistic.
“Losing 1:16 to Evans, who is a great time triallist, or a minute to Menchov is a satisfying result for me,” said the Spanish climber, a former podium finisher at the Tour. “Now, the mountains are up ahead and I’m sure they will be kinder to me.”
Wednesday’s stage is a 232km ride from Cholet to Chateauroux and is likely to be dominated by the sprinters, who have yet to contend a bunch sprint.
However, the yellow jersey action could continue on Thursday, when the peloton hit the first serious climbs leading to Super-Besse.
It is terrain that Kirchen, who finished seventh overall on the Tour last year, will be looking to exploit, according to his Team Columbia manager Rolf Aldag.
“Our biggest aim today was not to win the stage, it was to limit our time losses to the big favourites and I think we did that well,” he told AFP. “Kim is not the big favourite for the yellow jersey, but we’ll be sticking to our focus of supporting him as much as much as we can.
“After today he will be considered more as a favourite and I’m sure they’re not going to forget about him in the stage to Super-Besse.”
© BikeRadar & AFP 2008