Evans delivers pre-Tour punch at Saint Vallier

Tour champ says he has no idea what the Dauphiné means to his preparation for July, but gives his critics the ride they were looking for in stage 1

SAINT VALLIER, France (VN) — Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) delivered the response today that the critics wanted to see: a strong punch to his rivals prior to the Tour de France. It was the same style we saw from Bradley Wiggins (Sky) in the Tour de Romandie in La Chaux-de-Fonds last month — a strong whack to the head when we least expected it.

Evans escaped from the peloton after the final categorized climb in the first stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné. He countered a move by teammate, and classics star, Philippe Gilbert. Andrey Kashechkin (Astana) and France’s up-and-comer, Jérôme Coppel (Saur-Sojasun), were along for the ride, but Evans was the name the journalists marked. The Tour de France champ was making his move.

After a busy off-season, including adopting a baby boy, Evans’ only previous win in 2012 came in the Critérium International. He won a stage and the overall in the three-stage, two-day race. Afterwards, though, he suffered from a virus, dropped out of the Ardennes classics and failed to match Wiggins in Romandie.

“I don’t know if I come here with doubts, but I come here after a long block of training, a block without racing. I haven’t raced since Romandie,” Evans said afterwards in a press conference.

“Sometimes, if your training’s progressed well, you can go into the racing and have success immediately,” he said. “The stage win came as a small surprise today, but most of all, I’m happy to get a good result because I see the team is working very well and very hard already. Manuel Quinziato, Michael Schär and George Hincapie, as always, are working well.”

Hincapie joined the BMC Racing squad in 2010 and was instrumental in luring Evans away from Lotto. After helping Lance Armstrong for seven years, he saw Evans to his first Tour de France win last year. Today, ahead of his title defense next month, Evans impressed Hincapie.

“He was just staying in the front, found the good wheels. He basically just led it out for a K or two. He’s just so strong right now,” Hincapie told VeloNews moments after the finish. “It’s a win. A win in a ProTour [sic] race — the Dauphiné is big historical event — is important.”

Wiggins moved into the race lead today by one second over Evans on Monday. After winning the Paris-Nice and Tour de Romandie stage races this year, he’s favored to win the Dauphiné overall on Sunday. However, they both have their eyes on the big prize: the Tour title.

“I’m here in the Dauphiné to work with the team, to get the feeling before the Tour. To get the race rhythm,” Evans said. “I’ve placed second, second, 29th, 26th and then… first in the Tour after four times second in the Dauphiné, so I don’t know what all this means! I don’t know what I’ve got to do to win the Dauphiné and what it will mean for the Tour.”

The Tour’s bound to be an exiting fight with both Wiggins and Evans throwing surprise punches in the lead-up races. Wiggins landed one in La Chaux-de-Fonds and today in Saint Vallier, Evans finally responded.