By Justin Davis
Fighting for the yellow jersey puts as much pressure on the head as on the legs, as Cadel Evans is learning at the Tour de France.
After the second of two days in the Alps on Tuesday, the Silence-Lotto rider boosted his bid to win the final yellow jersey by surviving the CSC-Saxo Bank team’s efforts to shake him off on the difficult Cime de la Bonette-Restefond climb.
Evans’ efforts left him in third place overall at eight seconds behind race leader Frank Schleck (CSC-Saxo Bank) going into Wednesday’s stage, which takes in two monster climbs before finishing on legendary L’Alpe d’Huez.
“Tomorrow’s going to be the mountain stage of the Tour, so it’s a long way from being over yet,” said Evans, whose strong performance allowed him to take 35 seconds from Russian Denis Menchov (Rabobank), a potential rival if the race goes down to the final time trial on Saturday.
For the second time in this race Evans avoided crashing out after just missing a parked motorbike as he tried to follow an attack on the descent to Jausiers.
“I was a bit unlucky on the descent. I wanted to go with (Samuel) Sanchez when he went and just in the corner when I went to pass him a motorbike was just stopped on the exit of the corner,” he added.
“That gave him 200 meters and he stayed there until a kilometer from the end.”
Evans crossed the finish line in a 10-man group that contained Schleck and his Spanish teammate Carlos Sastre, with Menchov trailing in 35 seconds later.
Then, the 31-year-old Aussie — who has become something of a hit for cycling fans on YouTube — showed that racing the Tour can be as stressful to the head as it is to the legs.
Faced with a cameraman who was running backwards and trying to film him, a frustrated Evans took a leaf out of Frenchman Zinedine Zidane’s football book of follies and tried to headbutt the camera out of his way.
With the help of his Belgian bodyguard Evans got to his team van unscathed, where he said, “I’m dehydrated, and I’m cramping.”
It wasn’t his first outburst at this year’s race. Earlier, he took a whack at a reporter who got a little bit too close to his injured left shoulder. That was understandable, given the pain from a crash days before that could have spelled the end for Evans.
In the days that followed Evans’s setback, he barked at almost everyone who got anywhere near him, including one famous TV presenter: “Don’t touch my left shoulder!”
Whatever frustration he is feeling, Evans still cannot fail to feel positive ahead of Wednesday’s stage. Because of his superb time-trialing skills, CSC needs to make sure Schleck and Sastre have at least two or three minutes on the Australian ahead of Saturday’s 53km race against the clock.
Sastre is still 49 seconds off the pace of Schleck, and 41 seconds behind Evans, meaning it is imperative that CSC attack on the 210km 17th stage to L’Alpe d’Huez.
CSC team manager Bjarne Riis admitted that adverse wind conditions atop Tuesday’s second unclassified climb, the Cime de la Bonette-Restefond, had scuppered his plan to leave their rivals in their wake on Tuesday.
The Dane, who won the 1996 Tour de France, said his riders will have Evans in their sights, although he admitted that the qualities of recuperation of each contender will be a big factor.
“To be honest I expected him (Evans) to stay with us today. There was a lot of wind so it’s just easy to sit on the wheels,” said Riis. “Everybody suffered a lot today, everybody made a lot of sacrifices and some will pay for that in their legs tomorrow. But hopefully not us.”
Asked how Schleck or Sastre would deal with Evans on Wednesday, Riis was unequivocal.
“If you want to win the Tour you need to beat him, you need to drop him for sure because he’s the fastest (of the contenders) in the time trial,” added the Dane.
“I think the big battle will be on the Alpe d’Huez, but after the Galibier and the Croix de Fer if you’re suffering on the Alpe d’Huez you can really lose a few minutes.
“If you go too deep today, you pay for it tomorrow.”