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A two-way tie tipped in favor of Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) in a short, but intense time trial battle at the Critérium International to give the defending Tour de France champion his first win of the 2012 season.
Evans won the tiebreaker against Michael Rogers (Team Sky) to win the 6.5km individual time trial in Porto Vecchio on Corsica to claim the stage win and slip into the overall lead.
“It’s the first victory of the year in my fourth race, things are taking a little while to get the season going, but that’s OK,” Evans said after the race. “It took me a little while to get the speed up, but in our profession, the victories are always welcome. Tomorrow becomes much more interesting.”
Evans and Rogers stopped the clock in 7 minutes, 21 seconds, with Evans winning by 0.3 seconds.
“Whenever you finish on the same second as someone in a time trial, it comes down to a little bit of luck, so I am happy to come out on top,” he said.
Florian Vachon (Bretagne-Schuller) won the morning sector in a sprint finale, but couldn’t match the firepower of the TT specialists in the afternoon stage in the two-day, three-day race on Corsica.
David Zabriskie (Garmin-Barracuda) and Brent Bookwalter (BMC Racing) both stopped the clock just two seconds slower for seventh and eighth, respectively. Ben King (RadioShack-Nissan-Trek) was also strong with 12th at seven seconds off the winning pace.
“It’s been three weeks without competition for me, since Three Days in West Flanders,” King said on the team’s web site. “I’ve done a lot of training. My goal was to be good here and I’m happy so far, especially since the time trial is not really my specialty.”
Defending champion Frank Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan) will have his work cut out for him Sunday after ceding 22 seconds in the TT to Evans and Rogers.
Evans will carry a slender lead into Sunday’s third and decisive climbing stage ending atop the Col de l’Ospedale.
The race will be decided in Sunday’s five-climb, 179km stage ending atop the Cat. 1 Col de l’Ospedale. The 17km climb tackles nearly 1,000 vertical meters, making it a tough challenge so early in the season.
Evans said he was happy with the victory in what he admits has been a slow start to the 2012 season.
With the Tour de France defense and a shot at the Olympic Games coming later in the season, Evans said he’s on track to being in top condition come July.
“Maybe I am little bit ahead of where I want to be (physically). I went to Tirreno with some high hopes, but maybe my off-season wasn’t as smooth as other years,” Evans said. “I do not get too stressed about how things are going early in the season when I got July and other goals coming up later in the year. I just do my work as best as I can.”