Cadel Evans became the first Australian to win the Tour de France in 2011. He’ll open his title defense on Saturday in Liège, Belgium, alongside most of the riders that helped him to Paris in yellow last July. Evans hopes his BMC Racing squad can stack up against a Sky team that has run through the early stage races with unprecedented potency.
“We’re well prepared all around, whether it be in the mountains with Tejay (van Garderen) and (Amael) Moinard, or with the guys alongside in between the mountains or before we get to the mountains,” said Evans. “I’m confident we’ll have a good team for getting through it all.”
Van Garderen is one of only three new riders to join Evans’ Tour bid this year and should play a key support role in the high mountains — arguably the only thing lacking for BMC in 2011. Steve Cummings, who arrived from Sky in the offseason, will do the same.
Evans heads into this year’s race as the top favorite alongside Bradley Wiggins (Sky). Wiggins out-shined Evans in the build-up to the Tour by winning Paris-Nice, the Tour de Romandie and the Critérium du Dauphiné stage races. Over the key Col de Joux Plan climb in the Dauphiné, Sky underlined its dominance, placing four riders in the leading group of nine and isolating Evans.
The journalists that spoke with Evans in a phone interview last week were anxious to hear how he plans to deal with Sky in the Tour.
“In the mountains in the Dauphiné, Sky showed how much depth they have. To go over the Joux Plane with nine riders, and four of them are Sky — that was something we haven’t seen for a long time in pro racing,” he said. “If they hold that level, they’ll have the numbers. However, we’ll have to see when it’s down to five or 10 guys, how many riders they have then.”
Evans also relies on workhorses Marcus Burghardt, Philippe Gilbert, George Hincapie, Manuel Quinziato and Michael Schär. He mentioned Burghardt, Quinziato and Hincapie as being key players between the mountains: “Basically, all the guys alongside me last year, like Hincapie.”
Belgium’s Gilbert dominated cycling last year with wins in several top one-day races and stage 1 of the Tour de France. Van Garderen, Cummings and he are new to BMC Racing this year. Van Garderen, besides helping Evans, may contend for the young riders’ classification.
Cummings’ season has been littered with crashes. He fractured his hip in the Volta ao Algarve, fractured his left wrist in the Vuelta al País Vasco and last month in the Amgen Tour of California, cut his right knee and re-injured his wrist. Evans has yet to race with Cummings, but put his faith in the team’s sports directors and head doctor Max Testa.
“Steve was selected based on his performance in the Tour de Suisse and his past performances in the years gone by. His qualities as a bike rider and how he fits in,” Evans said. “I haven’t actually raced with him, so there’s not a lot I can tell you. We know he’s a good rider, he’s got experience, we know what he’s capable of.”
There is only one rider to wear bib number one and that is Evans. The pressure is on his eight helpers, but the Aussie said he hoped the number would help lift his team toward Paris. A rider is only as good as his most recent result, after all.
“I hope it’s a psychological advantage, I see it as a compliment of what I did last year,” Evans added. “But it’s only what you do on the road in the 2012 Tour that counts.”