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PARIS (AFP) — BMC Racing manager Jim Ochowicz has played down suggestions that the team sent to defend Cadel Evans’ 2011 Tour de France title was not up to the job.
But the evidence, after Bradley Wiggins led a rare one-two for Team Sky to leave Evans nearly 16 minutes off the pace, suggests the American-Swiss outfit will be going back to the drawing board.
Although questions were raised about Evans’ pre-race form following a busy year off the bike and a comparative lack of success on it, Sky gave the Australian rider no chance.
The Brits came armed with a team of climbers who had trained for setting an intense pace on the climbs. Ironically for Evans, two of his compatriots — Michael Rogers and Richie Porte — were among the most effective at that task.
Wiggins sat in their slipstream as they hauled a gradually dwindling peloton up the climbs at a pace that effectively stymied attacks.
“When we were riding on the front at 450 watts (of power) or whatever, someone would attack and Mick Rogers would say ‘just leave him, he can’t sustain it’,” Wiggins said.
The Briton, a three-time Olympic pursuit champion, then left his rivals trailing, Miguel Indurain style, with both his time trial wins.
As has often been the case, Evans had scant support on the climbs. To boot, he was upstaged by American teammate Tejay van Garderen, who went on to finish fifth and win the white jersey for the best-placed rider aged 25 or under.
But individually, he was also below par, losing nearly eight minutes to Wiggins over the 6.4km prologue and time trials of 41.5km and 53.5km. Van Garderen started the final time trial three minutes behind Evans and passed him with 20km to go.
The morning after Evans had dropped to 9:57 adrift, Ochowicz rejected suggestions that BMC had erred in its gameplan.
“That’s the style they (Sky) want to do, we have our own style,” he told AFP.
“We have different ideas about how we want to race and each team needs to do the race the way they think they need to do it.
“If we had some other opportunities maybe we could have changed the outcome but it wouldn’t have had to have been necessarily racing the style that they do racing on the front.”
At age 34 in July 2011, Evans was among the oldest Tour winners. But he is already looking at 2013.
“I’ll come back again 100 percent, better than this year, that’s for sure,” Evans said Sunday on completion of his eighth Tour.
“I think I still have the capability to win. It’s always up to me in the end and that’s what matters most. I think I’ll be a bit hungrier next year as well.”
Both Evans and Ochowicz believe BMC will have to alter its approach. The route for 2013, when the race celebrates its 100th edition, is unveiled in October.
Talking of his teammates, Evans added: “I enjoyed being with them and working with them, but of course after the success of last year, it wasn’t what we hoped for and certainly wasn’t up to the level of last year.”
Evans, who fell sick with stomach problems on stage 16, the penultimate day in the mountains, added: “When you’re having a bad time, you’re sick or something in this sport, when it’s one of those hard days in the mountains, you know it’s the hardest sport on earth.”
And van Garderen says he is not abandoning Evans yet.
“He’s been dealing with some stuff during this Tour but I still think he has another Tour win in him and if he can come back next year and win it, I’ll be happy to help him,” he said.
Ochowicz admits Sky’s performance has raised the bar.
“They’re a good team. They’re going to be a challenger, it looks like, for the next years to come,” he said.
“But other teams will challenge them. I don’t think anyone’s going to have a dominant position in this sport. We’ve got to lift ourselves up to and figure out what we do to come back here.”