Taking the Tour de France’s yellow jersey after a summit finish, the day before the Tour’s first rest day — it’s a position Cadel Evans has been in before.
The last time was in 2008, when the Australian, then with Silence-Lotto, took yellow on the Hautacam climb in the Pyrenees but ultimately finished the Tour second overall behind Carlos Sastre.
In both instances Evans was nursing fresh road rash wounds; two years ago his day in yellow came just one day after a nasty crash tore up his left shoulder.
On Sunday his wounds were even fresher, as Evans crashed 6km into the stage in a pileup that also took down RadioShack leader Lance Armstrong. Evans described it as a “bad crash,” and said that for a moment, he wasn’t sure if his Tour was over. He finished sixth on the stage, 10 seconds behind stage winner Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank), whom he now leads by 20 seconds.
“I didn’t have time to react,” he said. “I went down pretty hard on my left side. Fortunately, my legs didn’t take it. I took it all in my left arm, which is pretty sore.
It was certainly a little bit of déjà vu, to have a bad crash, think you are out of the Tour, then come back and take yellow with one of the Schlecks breathing down your neck … Today I crashed, but two years ago when I crashed in the Tour I had one of the hardest days of my career on the stage to Hautacam, with all the bruising and pain,” he said. “That day, I got dropped with (sprinter) Julian Dean on the first climb and was fighting for yellow at the end of day. I went from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs. It was a bit different today.”
And by all accounts, the Evans of 2010 is a different rider than that of 730 days ago, when the effects of his crash and the weight of the maillot jaune seemed to push the Australian over the edge.
Widely criticized for not riding aggressively enough, after a turbulent Tour last year, Evans proved his critics wrong with a perfectly timed moved at the world road championship last September in Mendrisio, Switzerland.
Since that world championship ride, Evans jumped teams, to the American BMC Racing squad; in April he won the Fleche Wallonne classic, and in May he finished fifth overall, with a gritty stage win, at a wild and unconventional Giro d’Italia.
On Sunday the BMC rider became the first reigning world champion to wear the maillot jaune since Tom Boonen in 2006, and one of only five Australians to lead the Tour de France. In five previous Tours, Evans has finished second overall twice — in 2007, to Alberto Contador, and 2008, to Sastre.
After the podium presentation Sunday, Evans answered questions, both in French and English, and appeared content and relaxed. He was quick to praise the work of his teammates, particularly American George Hincapie, and attributed his current position to the team’s preparation for the treacherous cobblestones on stage 3.
Asked about Schleck’s stage-winning attack, Evans said he could not respond.
“It was pretty windy out there on climb,” Evans said. “It wasn’t flat, but it wasn’t favorable for an attack from a long way out. Astana was riding a hard tempo, and when Andy went, it was a good attack, so compliments to him. I didn’t want to lose too much time to Andy, but I was happy to be there with Contador.”
The most pressing question facing Evans is how long his BMC team will try to defend the maillot jaune with two weeks left to race.
“First of all we have the rest day, and I’m very happy about that after today’s stage,” Evans said. “We will have to analyze the classification and the upcoming stages before making a plan for the next days. This year the Pyrenees are very hard, Astana is very strong, and Andy (Schleck) is very strong. It’s going to be hard.”
Asked what he has learned since his last stint in the yellow jersey, Evans took a minute to ponder the question before answering, “Believe in yourself, believe in the people around you and stay calm.”