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Will Cadel Evans finally win the Tour?

Saturday, July 02, 2011 - 7:13 PM
Source: SportsFan
Author: Matt Price

Will Cadel Evans win this year's Tour de France?

Predictions are a fool's game in cycling which, not coincidentally, is one of the few sports you can legally bet on in Japan.

But let's go out on a limb. He will win, but not until August.

The stars are aligning for Evans this year, after two Murphy's-law Tours when it looked as though everything that could go wrong, would.

He looks settled in his new team, BMC Racing, after jumping ship from the Belgian team Omega Pharma-Lotto.

The Belgians were always reluctant to build a team around a yellow jersey contender. But BMC, an American squad run by the experienced Jim Ochowicz, have picked their Tour de France roster with Evans in mind.

Although it is not the strongest team going around, quality workhorses like George Hincapie should keep Evans out of trouble. They should also have the firepower for Sunday's team time trial. This will prevent the kind of embarrassing scene we saw in 2009, when Evans slowed almost to a halt to allow his bumbling Lotto teammates to catch up.

This year, in contrast to previous years, Evans has built his schedule around the Tour.

In 2009, Evans' most successful season on the road, he delivered the goods at the beginning and end of the year. Last year he was imperious at the Giro d'Italia and won the Fleche Wallonne spring classic, becoming the first Aussie to do so. But by the time the Tour came around he was cooked, as was the Giro's other star, Ivan Basso. It was no surprise he blew up when the race hit the mountains.

BMC have allowed Evans to design a calendar to deliver him to France in peak condition. And it's paying off. A win in the Tour of Romandy and second place in last month's Critérium du Dauphiné says he's at the top of his game. He should have the condition to avoid disastrous days like the one in the Alps last July when he lost eight minutes to the race leaders.

The elephant in the room

Look around the rest of the field, and the question is: if Evans hits the mountains at the end of week two in form, who is going to stop him?

The Brits have their hopes pinned on Bradley Wiggins. But so far the Team Sky rider is a one-Tour wonder, having caused excitement by finishing fourth in 2009 before falling back to 24th last year. Going by results elsewhere, 2009 looks like the anomaly.

Two-time bridesmaid Andy Schleck's achilles heel is the individual time trial. Unless he has made serious strides against the clock in the past few months he will lose ground to Evans. He's another who is aiming solely at the Tour, but will he have the legs to recover all this time in the mountains?

Elsewhere, Robert Gesink is generating a lot of talk over at Rabobank. There's also Basso who, like Evans, skipped this year's Giro for the Tour. Spaniard Sammy Sanchez is a gun but rides on one of the weakest teams and will lose close to a minute in the team time-trial.

The elephant in the room here, of course, is Alberto Contador. The Spaniard has won three Tours and stands head and shoulders above Schleck, Basso and Evans. Unless he falls off his bike he will win again this year.

However, Contador rides with an asterisk next to his name thanks to an upcoming hearing at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

In August, the International Cycling Union will argue that the Spanish federation were wrong to exonerate Contador for testing positive for the weight-loss drug Clenbuterol.

If CAS agrees, Contador will serve a two-year ban and be stripped of last year's Tour de France title, this year's Giro d'Italia and, should he win it, this year's Tour.

So, should history someday record that Evans became Australia's first ever Tour de France winner, the likelihood is that he will have climbed the podium on the Champs Elysees in second place.

It's not a nice way to win, but welcome to cycling.

Whatever happens, this year is almost certainly Evans' final chance. Next year he will be 35. Only one man, Belgian Firmin Lambot, has won the race at that age or older, and that was way back in 1922.

Not even the Japanese would bet on that record falling.

The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of BigPond Sport. 

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