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By Neal Rogers
Though Predictor-Lotto’s Cadel Evans still sits third on the general classification heading into Tuesday’s rest day, the Aussie lost another 56 seconds to race leaders Michael Rasmussen and Alberto Contador on Monday’s stage 15 and is beginning to show signs of cracking.
For Evans, the emotional strain of watching his hope to win the Tour slide into a desperate attempt to preserve a podium position landed him in tears following Sunday’s stage and left him expressing doubt after Rasmussen and Contador again rode away from him on Monday’s climb over the Col de Peyresourde.
Speaking to reporters from the front seat of a team car, Evans chided a French TV journalist for mispronouncing his name.
“It’s Ca-del, mate,” Evans replied testily. “Ca-del Evans.”
As Predictor-Lotto’s only GC hope, Evans is growing increasingly frustrated racing against teams such as Discovery and Astana, which each have a pair of riders in the top 8 overall.
On stage 14 Evans followed Contador and Rasmussen to Plateau de Beille only to explode in the final kilometers and move backwards through Levi Leipheimer, Juan Maurico Soler and Carlos Sastre until the he latched on to Andreas Klöden’s wheel. Ahead, Contador and Rasmussen rode together in order to distance themselves from the Aussie.
On Monday’s stage 15 Evans stayed with the race’s remaining podium contenders when Contador laid down an attack that only Rasmussen followed. Evans said the rest of the race’s leaders “rode like amateurs” behind Contador and Rasmussen’s move.
“Unfortunately I had to race conservatively,” Evans said. “It’s not what I wanted to do, but I was completely on my own. I was looking to Astana and the other guys to follow. What am I supposed to do when I am on my own?”
“Riders that can pull back breaks like that cost a lot of money, and not every team can afford them,” Evans said.
Evans’s sole support in the mountains has come from American Chris Horner, but ultimately Horner is not the sort of rider who can attack or chase down pure climbers such as Contador and Rasmussen.
“For that reason I didn’t try to go with [Contador and Rasmussen],” Evans continued. “As they did yesterday, they cooperated together against me. When I have half of the peloton against me with their teammates, what am I supposed to do? I’m on my own. Astana has teammates, Caisse d’Epargne, CSC, they’ve all got teammates and they’re not riding. They don’t seem to want to win the Tour de France.”
Evans now sits exactly four minutes behind Rasmussen, 2:23 behind Contador and 1:25 ahead of Leipheimer — the same time difference he finished ahead of the American on Saturday’s stage 13 time trial. Evans said that the way Contador and Rasmussen are climbing he has to “be realistic,” about taking time out of them on Wednesday’s stage 16, which finishes atop the Col d’Aubisque.
“Rasmussen and Contador seem to be on a different level in the hills,” Evans said, saying he can only hope to chisel away on Contador and Rasmussen on Saturday’s flat 55.5km time trial.
On last Saturday’s 54km time trial, which featured a category 4 climb, Evans finished 1:04 ahead of Contador and 1:41 ahead of Rasmussen. In the absence of a climb, Evans can hope to gain another 20-30 seconds maximum.
“In theory I would be more suited to the flat time trial than they would be,” Evans said.
But even if Evans were to make up time in the time trial, if stage 16’s outcome is anything like stages 14 and 15, it won’t be enough. Evans lost 1:52 to Rasmussen and Contador at Plateau de Beille, and 56 seconds over the Peyresourde.
Asked how he likes his chances to make the final podium in Paris, Evans answered, “Less and less as [Contador and Rasmussen] take more time.”