COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (VN) — Cadel Evans rode into Colorado Springs on the tail of a whirlwind publicity tour following his Tour de France win last month. After finishing ninth in the prologue Monday, Evans was satisfied, but stopped short of predicting big things when the race heads uphill Tuesday.
When he rolled down the start ramp in the Garden of the Gods, 300 vertical feet above the downtown finish, Evans wasn’t certain what to expect. Almost nine minutes later he was safe inside the top 10 and in position to contend for the overall in the mountains this week.
2011 USA Pro Cycling Challenge
Virtual GC top-15 (after prologue)
1. Christian Vande Velde, Garmin-Cervélo in 8:29
2. Jens Voigt, Leopard-Trek at :05
3. George Hincapie, BMC Racing at :05
4. Levi Leipheimer, RadioShack at :06
5. Tejay Van Garderen, HTC-Highroad at :06
6. Cadel Evans, BMC Racing at :06
7. Rory Sutherland, UnitedHealthcare at :13
8. Stef Clement, Rabobank at :14
9. Tom Danielson, Garmin-Cervélo at :15
10. Robert Gesink, Rabobank at :16
11. Peter Stetina, Garmin-Cervélo at :20
12. Oscar Sevilla, Gobernacion at :30
13. Andy Schleck, Leopard-Trek at :34
14. Fränk Schleck, Leopard Trek at :35
15. Timothy Duggan, Liquigas-Cannondale at: 36
“I’m feeling all right on the bike; my time was really limited, I had a few bits and pieces coming over from Australia,” said Evans. “You’re missing out on recovery and training as well, so it’s not exactly perfect to come here, but give me a couple days. I think I might be able to go all right. It’s probably the adaptation to altitude that’s the biggest thing.”
After taking part in a run of tradition-rich post-Tour criteriums earlier this month, Evans traveled to Melbourne for a homecoming before his arrival in the U.S. last week.
On Monday he started last of 135 riders in the kickoff of the first-ever USA Pro Cycling Challenge, the seven-day stage race that will visit Colorado’s Front Range and central mountains. With a mostly downhill opening kilometer, the parcours didn’t suit the punchy Aussie well.
“It was a little bit of a tricky course because you’re starting downhill,” said Evans. “I always rely on the first uphill in a time trial to warm me up.”
A few of the GC and stage favorites opted for early starts Monday after thunderstorms and winds blanketed the Colorado Springs in the days leading up to the race. Stage winner Patrick Gretsch (HTC-Highroad) started 41st and second-place Christian Vande Velde even earlier, leading off for Garmin-Cervélo at 11th.
As the Tour de France champion and bib number one, Evans was slotted last on the startlist by organizers. The forecasted wind never came and Evans powered to a time of 8:35, just eight seconds behind Gretsch and six seconds slower than Vande Velde.
Five minutes after his finish, Evans hadn’t seen the results yet, but didn’t put much weight on the prologue headed into three stages in the high mountains.
“The guys who rode (the Tour of) Utah and that, they have an obvious advantage, another week here, and that makes a big difference. We’re only talking three, four percent, but we’re only going for eight or nine minutes, so two, three percent can make the difference in just the first kilometer or two,” said Evans. “It’s going to be a completely different ballgame tomorrow.”
Tomorrow is the first-stage assault on Mount Crested Butte. The 159.8km stage starts in Salida, in the Arkansas River Valley, and climbs the race’s first KOM at Monarch Pass before descending to the Gunnison Valley for a long, potentially windy slog to the ski area town. The 4.5km finish ramp is built ideally for Evans, whose powerful finish has most recently delivered him to wins at the 2010 La Flèche Wallonne classic and stage 4 of this year’s Tour de France, at Mur de Bretagnes.
With the altitude, Evans, who arrived to Utah last Sunday, wasn’t certain how his legs would shake out in the finale.
“On paper it looks good, but the biggest thing is the altitude and those guys that rode Utah like Leipheimer, Vande Velde, all the Garmin guys, some of the Colombians as well, are going to be in a much better position to take things into control tomorrow and really do something,” said Evans. “For me, I’m just hoping I’ll be OK.”