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Tour de France

Evans relaxed and ready at rest-day get-together

There’s a “down home” quality to Cadel Evans that was emphasized by his rest-day get-together with the media on Tuesday. It was certainly not a rest-day event in the style of a Lance Armstrong, whose Tour de France press conferences were all business, much in the style of Armstrong himself.

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By John Wilcockson

Evans relaxes on the Tour's first rest day.

Evans relaxes on the Tour’s first rest day.

Photo: AFP

There’s a “down home” quality to Cadel Evans that was emphasized by his rest-day get-together with the media on Tuesday. It was certainly not a rest-day event in the style of a Lance Armstrong, whose Tour de France press conferences were all business, much in the style of Armstrong himself. Evans was confronted by a battery of 25 TV and radio microphones and a dozen TV cameras, but the setting wasn’t a stuffy conference room, but the tree-lined lawn behind the rustic Hôtel des Pyrénées, next to a cornfield in the Pyrenean village of Ousse, well away from the bustle of Pau, where most teams have been staying since Sunday night.

Rather than the usual media affair, with a moderator asking, “First question?” Evans was introduced with a recording of the Aussie pop group Men at Work booming over the loudspeakers, playing “Land Down Under.”

The new leader of the Tour then took the mic and talked about the long-term project to win the Tour that he undertook with his Silence-Lotto team manager Marc Sergeant, starting with Evans’s first Tour in 2005. That project has resulted in progressively better results: eight in ’05, fifth in ’06, second in ’07 — and halfway through this year’s Tour, the yellow jersey.

“So far, so good,” said the 31-year-old Aussie, who was asked how he had fared through the first 10 stages. “Sunday, I thought my Tour was over. I was honestly — I can’t think of a polite word to describe how scared I was, but I was scared. Then (Monday), we were making some calculations up there on the [Hautacam] climb, pedaling away, and thinking, ‘if one of these guys hits out in the last 500 meters it’ll probably close the gap for yellow. ‘ And here we are with the yellow jersey … early. But the goal always stays the same: Yellow in Paris.”

Though he was asked most of the conventional questions expected at a race leader’s news affair, the “heaviness” of these questions was tempered by the outdoor location on a splendidly sunny afternoon, the hors d’oeuvres and champagne reception that followed, and by Evans himself. He was accompanied by the same shaven-headed Belgian cop bodyguard who previously worked for Armstrong and Alexander Vinokourov, but Evans softened the image by clutching the toy lion presented to him by the yellow-jersey sponsor LCL (formerly Crédit Lyonnais) after the finish in Hautacam Monday night.

Evans had even dressed the lion in sunglasses and the ceremonial yellow jersey awarded to him Monday. He said he hasn’t yet given a name to his little lion, but the childlike glee he has shown in acquiring his new status is refreshing in a frequently tired, too traditional sport. But Evans also has a serious side. He had considered wearing one the “Free Tibet” T-shirts that he often wears under his racing jersey, but finally settled for a “safe” Silence-Lotto team black T-shirt, because “I wasn’t in a controversial mood today.”

That wasn’t so after the stage to Hautacam, when Evans exploded with anger when a reporter put his hand on the rider’s injured left shoulder — and he reportedly punched another interlocutor in the chest. Evans explained that from Sunday’s crash he has a bruised trapezius —the large muscle that spans the neck, shoulders and back. “That was a bit of a worry yesterday in the race,” he said. “If you look back in the footage you can see sometimes I drop my left shoulder because I can’t contract my trapezius well without it hurting, and that’s hopefully going to clear up by tomorrow.”

Tomorrow, Wednesday, is stage 11 of the Tour. It’s a rather unusual one. It’s mostly flat and rolling, but includes a severe Cat. 1 climb, the steep and narrow Sommet de Portel, not used before at the Tour. From the 4,698-foot summit, the winding road descends into the finish town of Foix, where the race takes a 28.5km loop before the fast, flat finish. It’s definitely a stage that will go to a breakaway, and if that climb catches out any of the GC favorites, we could see the race split apart, with chases and counterattacks before a furious finish.

Not only could a challenge be thrown down by the CSC-Saxo Bank team, which has Fränk Schleck and Carlos Sastre respectively sitting one second and 1:28 behind Evans, but riders displaced from the top positions by the Pyrenean climbs might try to take back some of their lost time. The teams most likely to do this are Euskaltel-Euskadi, Caisse d’Épargne, Liquigas, Cofidis and Barloworld.

Evans said Tuesday that he is ready for anything. When asked about the CSC threat, he said, “I’ve already given that some thought. CSC is there with numbers, and certainly between Sastre and Fränk they’re going to be a force to be reckoned with. But they’re not the only ones.”

Indeed, this Tour, in many ways, is just beginning.