Knee not a worry for Aussie fave
By Andrew Hood
As Cadel Evans takes aim at becoming the first Australian to win the Tour de France, he is finding inspiration from the first rider to win five in a row: Miguel Indurain.
Evans says that he’ll try to follow Big Mig’s proven model of taking gains in the time trials and defending in the mountains.
“The way I rode the Tour last year was a bit like how Indurain did it. I only took back time in the time trials,” Evans said Wednesday. “I’d like to be able to take time in the climbs as well, but when you have two of the best climbers in the world working against you, like I did in last year’s Tour, it’s not always easy. It’s not like I’m scared to attack, it’s just that I don’t always have the legs.”
It might not be the attack-riddled excitement that fans and the media clamor over, but Silence-Lotto team boss Marc Sergeant says it’s the most effective tactic considering Evans overall consistency.
“That strongest fact of Cadel is that he’s consistent. If it’s time trialing or in the mountains, he’s always there. That’s his big secret,” Sergeant said. “Indurain would gain two or three minutes in the time trials and he could ride defensively. You don’t have to attack to win. (Alberto) Contador won the Giro without attacking.”
The 31-year-old doesn’t have much more room to improve for the 2008 Tour.
After making methodical and steady progress in the past three Tours – climbing from eighth in 2005, fifth in 2006 and second in 2007 – there’s only one place to go if he wants to keep his improvement streak alive.
“It doesn’t take a mathematician to work it out if I want to continue with my progress,” Evans said with a smile Wednesday. “We’re going for the win. It feels good to be in this position.”
Evans said he’s been working on an improved time trial position as well as his climbing prowess as he takes aim at the overall title.
“We’ve been working hard on all the little details that could add up to seconds, if not minutes, in Paris,” said Evans, who was second in last year’s Tour by 23 seconds to Spain’s Alberto Contador.
Concerning Contador’s absence from this year’s Tour, Evans said curtly, “I don’t make the rules, I just abide by them.”
Knee injury improved
Evans spoke with journalists Wednesday evening following Stage 3 in the Dauphiné Libére, where he finished third in the 31km individual time trial behind surprise winner Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d’Epargne).
“He’s improved a lot. In last year’s Tour first time trial, I think he lost four minutes (ed – 6:08 to winner Vinokourov, 4:46 to Evans), so that’s a very good improvement, but we’ll see how it goes in the Tour,” Evans said. “That’s been his weakness, or his lesser strength, because he seems like a well-balanced rider.”
Most important for Evans so far through the opening days of the Dauphiné is that he’s riding without pain in his left knee.
Evans was thrown for a scare last month when he was forced to make changes in his Tour preparations after efforts to break-in a new time trial position resulted in tendonitis during a training camp in Spain.
“I wasn’t panicking, but I started to worry about falling behind in my preparation. I was concentrated on getting over the injury and getting back on track for the Tour,” he said. “Now it’s back at a good level. We had to adapt to a new time trial position and the way my body reacted to it, it developed into tendonitis for the first time in my life as a professional cyclist. It seems to be gone now. I have my finger’s crossed and I can move on.”
Evans guessed he was at “6.5 out of 10” on his fitness level right now, but said he will increase his work load in the coming weeks, with special training camps in the mountains to prepare for the Tour.
A big difference for Evans this year is that he will enter the Tour as one of the top favorites for victory and the pressure that comes with one.
One way he’s coping with that newfound pressure is counting more than ever on his Silence-Lotto teammates and staff.
Four years ago, the Belgian team was focused on winning cycling’s one-day classics or sprints with Aussie pocket rocket, Robbie McEwen.
Now it’s slowly evolved into a Tour candidate thanks to changes encouraged by Evans.
The team will be traveling with its own chef and Evans will even employ the same bodyguard Lance Armstrong used during the final years of his seven-year Tour reign.
“When you’re looking to improve in that last half-percent, you have to look at the details,” Evans said. “We’ve come a long way. This team has been working hard on this project for four years and now it’s all coming together. We’re a Tour-winning caliber team now.”
Evans said he has a two-year extension on the table from Silence-Lotto and said it’s too early to speak about a rumored all-Australian team anytime soon.
“There’s been a lot of talk, not quite enough euros. We have the riders in Australia to field a good team, but all good things cost money,” Evan said. “We’ve been working four years here on a good thing. I’d like to continue on that progression. These have been the most enjoyable years of my career as a cyclist. I think it’s the best way to win the Tour as well. Maybe in five or six years time, I’d like to be on an Aussie team if they wanted someone with some experience.”
With his profile on the rise back home, Evans said it was “an honor” that Australia is taking notice of the Tour and his efforts to become the first Aussie to win.
“They’re becoming a bit nuts for the Tour,” he said. “I’m proud in that respect to bring attention to cycling to Australia. Aussies love sport, but cycling isn’t part of our culture, so it’s a little bit of an honor.”
Australian television broadcast the Tour live for the first time last year. Ratings are sure to go through the roof if he’s riding in contention for the win come July.