Australian Cadel Evans has all but discounted the threat presented by the CSC team of Tour de France leader Frank Schleck to his own yellow jersey pretensions.
Instead, the Silence-Lotto team leader – who lost the lead to Schleck after Sunday’s first day of three in the Alps – believes Russian Denis Menchov is the man capable of causing him most pain in Paris next Sunday.
“Frank Schleck is in the best position, but I saw a very good Menchov yesterday,” Evans told reporters here on Monday during the race’s second rest day. “I’ve been racing against all of these riders for a good few years, and Menchov is the one I know least,” he added.
Menchov provided some major drama on the 15th stage to the race’s third summit finish when he crashed after launching a threatening attack. The Rabobank team leader watched his rivals distance him, only to fight back and end up taking more time off Evans.
“For him to come back and then to attack again is really incredible,” conceded the Australian, who since the start in Brest on July 5 has consistently picked Menchov as his biggest threat.
The Russian is a two-time Tour of Spain champion who has the experience of tough climbs and of the five riders within 50 seconds of Schleck in the overall standings, he is arguably the biggest threat to Evans in the time trial.
The Tour’s second race against the clock is on Saturday, over a distance of 53km. Of the top six in the overall standings, Evans, Menchov and American Christian Vande Velde of the Garmin team are expected to dominate.
It means Schleck, his CSC teammate Carlos Sastre and Austrian Bernhard Kohl, currently second at seven seconds behind Schleck, will be looking to the Alps to stretch their advantage.
After suffering the attacks of Schleck’s CSC team on Sunday, Evans knows he could again be left “doing lots of maths and racing on instinct”, as he has been doing so far.
Tuesday’s 16th stage features two killer ‘unclassified’ climbs before reaching Jausiers, and the final day in the mountains Wednesday finishes atop the legendary Alpe d’Huez, where Schleck claimed his one and only stage of the race in 2006.
Evans added: “I think Alpe d’Huez will be all about who’s got something left in the tank. The Alpe is the most epic. Also, it’s the last climb and it’s in the third week. After these next two mountain days, I’ll have a better idea (of my chances) but I think it will go all the way to Paris.”
As things stand, Evans needs to go into Saturday’s penultimate stage with no more than a three, or even two, minute deficit to Schleck and his Spanish teammate Carlos Sastre.
What Evans cannot do is allow Menchov, who is fourth overall at 30 seconds behind him, to steal any more time. Evans said he would “hopefully suffer no time losses” in the Alps, although he knows that possibility is slim.
“CSC have a much stronger team than we do. No disrespect to my guys … but that’s the way it is,” he said.
His team manager, Marc Sergeant, is hoping the Aussie can hold on.
“We’ve had to pass the race lead on to Frank Schleck, but we’re still on track for our goal in Paris,” said Sergeant.
Evans is just hoping the weight of the yellow jersey puts some pressure on CSC.
“For how strong their team is, it took them a long time to get the jersey,” quipped the Aussie. “Now, the responsibility is in their hands, only time will tell how they deal with it.”
© BikeRadar & AFP 2008