Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team) admitted he was happy to sit just behind the race leader of the Tour de France after a first mountain test for the contenders on Saturday.
Two-time runner-up Evans began the seventh stage, a 165.5km ride from Tournus to Les Rousses, just 39 seconds off the pace of maillot jaune Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank).
After a combination of unbearable humidity and the peloton’s pace took its toll, Cancellara tumbled down the standings to 58th overall at more than 13 minutes adrift.
Evans is still in second place, but is now 1:25 behind new race leader Sylvain Chavanel (Quick Step) after the Frenchman capped a superb attack with his second stage win of the 97th Tour.
Other challengers within striking distance are Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank), fourth at 1:55; reigning champion Alberto Contador (Astana), sixth at 2:26; and seven-time champion Lance Armstrong (Team RadioShack),14th at 3:16.
In theory, it is an ideal position for Evans, who is keen to avoid giving his team the pressure of defending the yellow jersey so early in the race.
“To take the jersey today would have put a lot of pressure on the guys, and there’s a long way to go. But I think tomorrow will be much more of a real shake-up,” said Evans after he finished in a bunch containing all the main contenders at 1:47 behind Chavanel.
“We wouldn’t expect Chavanel to keep the jersey tomorrow, but also, it’s not easy going against the Schlecks and Contador and Armstrong as well. But having the yellow jersey now is a little bit of pressure to have early in the race. It’s a good position to be in at the moment.”
Like many of the peloton, the world champion admitted he suffered in the hot and humid conditions.
“A bit hot today. It’s funny, we’ve been on the flat for so long, then we get to the climbs — it takes a bit of getting used to, but everyone’s in the same boat,” he said.
Monday is a rest day, while Tuesday takes the peloton further into the Alps for another difficult stage beginning in Morzine and ending on the downhill finish at Saint-Jean-De-Maurienne.
The third and final week features four tough days in the Pyrenees, followed by a long time trial on the penultimate stage.