By Andrew Hood
Second place overall at the 2008 Tour de France with Cadel Evans was good enough for Silence-Lotto brass, who still believe their Aussie pupil has the goods to win cycling’s biggest race.
Evans was the pre-race favorite, but his hopes were upended when he crashed in the Pyrénées and then undone by Carlos Sastre’s attack on Alpe d’Huez in the final week.
Silence-Lotto sport director Hendrick Redant said the Belgian team was content with Evans’ second Tour podium and believe a reloaded Silence-Lotto team will bode good things for 2009.
“We’re satisfied with the Tour. Cadel was right there for the victory. He just didn’t have a great time trial when he needed one,” Redant told VeloNews. “People forget that Cadel had a very bad crash. He should have been out of the Tour, but he finished second. Cadel rode a very good Tour. It’s easy to say he should have done this or done that, but he did what he could. That’s okay. Cadel will have a few more chances at the Tour.”
Despite the likely return next year of 2007 champion Alberto Contador and the comeback of seven-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong, Redant said Evans still has right stuff to win cycling’s biggest prize.
“Yes, we believe that Cadel can win the Tour. That’s what we’ve been working for the past few years,” he continued. “This was not his last chance. It was a very good chance. Now he’s closer than ever before.”
The arrival of such premier riders as Bernard Kohl, Thomas Dekker and Philippe Gilbert will give Evans even more firepower during the three-week race.
Silence-Lotto was often out-gunned in the most decisive moments of 2008, especially by the superior Team CSC, but Redant promises Evans will have more help next year.
“We will have a much stronger team in 2009. They can help Cadel next year,” he said. “There’s Kohl, he can help Cadel in the mountains and still ride for his own chances. It’s better to have two options. You can ride to help your captain and still have a strong result. Look what Leipheimer did in the Vuelta.” (Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted before Kohl tested positive for CERA.)
One rider who didn’t meet expectations was Yaroslav Popovych. The Ukraine rider switched to Lotto following a successful run at Discovery Channel, but fell flat in last year’s Tour.
“We were hoping for more from Popovych, but he wasn’t at his best. What can we do?” Redant said. “We hope he’s back to his normal level in 2009. He’s very frustrated. He’s angry. He’s not used to riding like he did.”
Evans, recovering from a knee injury that kept him out of the Vuelta a España and world championships, is expected to attend the 2009 Tour presentation next week.