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By Andrew Hood
Cadel Evans just can’t seem to catch a break this season.
The Australian’s chances of overall victory were torpedoed Saturday with an ill-timed puncture near the top of the decisive Alto de Monachil climb late in the five-climb 13th stage.
Confusion over a wheel change cost Evans critical seconds and he lost contact with the top GC rivals just as the leaders were nearing the final charge up to the summit finish at Sierra Nevada.
Evans crossed the line eighth at 2:24 back, forfeiting 1:08 to race leader Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne), and slipped from second place at just seven seconds back to fourth, now 1:23 back.
It was a heartbreaker for the Silence-Lotto rider, who was enjoying a great Vuelta after a frustrating Tour de France.
“I don’t deserve this. I do everything right in the fucking sport and I don’t deserve this shit,” Evans told VeloNews at the Sierra Nevada summit. “(The) wheel change was the problem.”
Evans’ bad luck was compounded by several factors.
Huge crowds lining the top of the climb meant that Silence-Lotto’s team car was caught up behind other cars stacked up in single file going up the narrow road.
That prompted Evans to take a wheel from the Shimano neutral support, but team officials weren’t sure if it was a 10-speed or an 11-speed casette, so Silence sport director Marc Wauters made the call to stop Evans again and switch his bike. They later discovered that the neutral support wheel was the correct one.
“We decided to switch bikes, so he lost even more time,” Wauters said. “It was terrible luck for Cadel. He’s riding great and I’m sure he would have been able to stay with those guys all the way to the end. He’s still close to the podium, but to lose a chance at victory like that in a grand tour isn’t fair.”
Evans later charged on a Twitter posting that media vehicles, most likely Spanish TV motorbikes, also complicated his situation.
Evans Twittered: “A puncture in a crucial moment of the Vuelta I can handle. Useless neutral assistance and media blocking the road I really don’t deserve.”
Silence-Lotto had Francis De Greef up the road from the day’s early breakaway, who sat up and helped as much as he could to try to help Evans chase, but after being in the breakaway all day, De Greef soon left Evans to fight alone.
There was some question about whether the other favorites should have waited for Evans in a gesture of solidarity.
There’s the unwritten rule of not attacking a GC leader when he suffers a mechanical or crash, but Evans obviously wasn’t in the lead, and with the race full on and the leaders barreling down the harrowing Monachil descent, there was no time for compassion.
“I didn’t even know that Evans flatted. All I know is that I looked back and he wasn’t there,” Valverde said. “We all agreed (Basso and Gesink) that we should collaborate together to try to distance Evans and (Samuel) Sánchez. Evans would have been very dangerous in the final time trial if things had stayed the same until then.”
Evans’ bad luck was a boon for Valverde, Robert Gesink and Ivan Basso, three climbers who were worried about the superior time trial abilities of the Australian.
“It’s too bad that Evans lost his second place like that. He doesn’t deserve that,” said Gesink (Rabobank), who slotted into second overall at 27 seconds back. “It’s good for me that Evans, (Tom) Danielson and Sánchez all lost time, because they are all better time trialists than me, so my podium chances are looking better.”
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