Despite uncertainty in spring season, Evans looks to Dauphine for confidence before Tour defense

After an up-and-down spring, Tour champ Cadel Evans will ride the Dauphine to build his fitness and confidence before Tour defense

SYDNEY, (AFP) – Australia’s Cadel Evans said Friday he remained confident about his Tour de France title defense despite illness and off-bike distractions this year.

Evans will be able to gauge how accurate that confidence is soon – he’ll test his form competing in the seven-stage Critérium du Dauphiné over 1,052 kilometers, beginning Sunday in Grenoble, France.

The Dauphine is a major lead-up event before the three-week Tour de France starts on June 30 in Liege, Belgium.

But Evans has had plenty on his plate that may have affected his training so far. He’s been in great demand since becoming the first Australian to win the Tour last July. Along with the added attention Tour champs must endure, Evans became a father in December when he and his wife, Chiara, adopted a baby boy, Robel.

His early season results don’t give the same picture of Evans’ form as they did last year when he had a stellar spring. While he won the Critérium International in March, he had to pull out midway through the Ardennes one-day classics season the following month with a sinus infection.

And he has not raced since the Tour de Romandie in late April, where he was defending champion but was clearly off his best form finishing 29th overall.

“Of course, the off-season was extremely busy, handling obligations that go along with being the Tour winner,” Evans told the Australian Associated Press. “And then I had a sinus infection that slowed me and eventually kept me from doing some of the classics.

“In between, I had a good race at Critérium International, winning the time trial and the race, so that was a good thing. The most important thing for me now is to keep preparing and working with the team so we are at our best when we take the start.”

Last year Evans won the Tirreno-Adriatico stage race as well as the Tour de Romandie before the Tour de France, but his entire 2011 campaign was based around peaking in July.

This time he said he has slightly held back because of the London Olympics after the Tour and potentially the September world road titles.

Evans said a big factor was ensuring the solid team spirit at BMC that underpinned his Tour win last year was still in place. “I think it built a lot of unity and confidence and morale (last year) – what I did at Tirreno-Adriatico, Romandie, etcetera,” he said.

“That helped going into the Tour. So although I didn’t quite perform to my expectations this season, I feel we have that same unity now.”