By Ben Delaney
After the recent withdrawalsof three high-profile Australians, cycling fans from down under found somethingto cheer about Tuesday in the form of Predictor-Lotto’s Cadel Evans. Theslim Aussie rode aggressively on the race’s first two hors categorieclimbs in stage 9 to finish third on the stage and move into fourthoverall.
“Yesterday everyone was asking me why I didn’t attack [on stage8, the first big day in the Alps],” Evans said at the finish line inBriançon. “But the Galibier was the first climb we’ve done [an extended]7 percent gradient in the Tour. I had a little bit of an attack today;[the steeper climbs are] what suits me best.”Riding in elite company of the world’s best climbers such as yellow-jerseyMichael Rasmussen (Rabobank), Levi Leipheimer (Discovery Channel), CarlosSastre (CSC) and a handful of others on the 6.9 percent grind up the Galibier,Evans was the only rider to bridge to an attacking Alberto Contador (DiscoveryChannel). Contador jumped out of the yellow-jersey group about 5km fromthe summit in pursuit of his teammate Varoslav Popovych, who was a fewseconds ahead and chasing the leader on the road, Colombian Mauricio Soler(Barloworld). Although the hors categorie Galibier climb is technically17.5km, riders tackle it almost immediately after scaling the 12km Télégraphpass, which averages 6.7 percent. (Suffice it to say, it was a climber’sday; more than half the field finished more than 22 minutes down.)After a few minutes on Contador’s flying wheel, Evans had to back off.But he continued to chase solo into a headwind over the summit as aheadContador and Popovych began a two-man team time trial in pursuit of Soler.Evans stayed clear of the yellow-jersey group until 20km to go, andsoon after Contador and Popovych were also reeled in. Evans sat in fora bit trying to recover as David Arroyo (Saunier Duval-Prodir) pulled thesmall group for his teammate Iban Mayo. Also in the Rasmussen group wereKlöden, Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne), Kim Kirchen (T-Mobile),Juan Jose Cobo (Saunier) Christophe Moreau (AG2R), Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel-Euskadi),Jose Ivan Gutierrez (Caisse d’Epargne). Klöden opened a gap, whichEvans eventually closed. After the Disco pair was caught, Evans led thechase up most of the final 6.7 percent 1.5km climb that included a 13 percentkicker, but Valverde came around him at the line to snip him for second.Evans’s third-place stage finish moved him into fourth-place overall,2:41 behind Rasmussen.Asked whether the result answered his critics who suggested Evans hadridden too conservatively on stage 8, Evans replied that he was “only interestedin answering to myself.”Evans said he is happy with his form and the way the Tour is unfolding.“Every day that passes it’s really staying according to plan,” he said.“I set pretty high standards for myself so to follow my plan isn’t so bad.”Evans didn’t plan to attack, or following Contador’s move, on the Galibier,but when he saw the most of the race favorites riding without teammateshe tried to take advantage.“I saw everyone was isolated,” he said. “I had the legs to go with Contadorwhen he went. For me he was one of the strongest guys, particularly onthe steeper climbs. He’s one to watch so when he went I thought I’d gowith him, but I couldn’t stay with him. His position and his team he cansit a bit more relaxed before the real attacks come, but he’s very maturefor his age.”With Rasmussen all but guaranteed to lose massive amounts of time inthe stage 13 and 19 time trials, Evans is more likely concerned with second-placedValverde, who sits six second ahead of him on the overall, or Mayo, twoseconds ahead.With no clear favorite emerging in this 94th Tour, the top riders arenervously watching each other.“Going into the second half of the Tour, we’re so closely matched inthe mountains, it’s good for you guys watching, but it’s a bit anxiousfor us,” Evans said. “The racing is just starting up now in the Alps. We’rejust seeing in the last two days the real selections being made, and nomatter what people have been saying the truth is just coming out. And it’sstill a long, long way to Paris.”On that long road to Paris, Evans said he has already seen hundredsof Australian flags along the racecourse.“Thanks to everyone with an Aussie flag out there. I really appreciateit,” he said. “I appreciate the support, and I feel honored to be flyingthe flag over here. I wave to everyone I can as long as I’m not flat out.”If stage 9 was any indication, Evans might not be waving too much onthe way to Paris.