Evans unfazed by weight of Tour defense

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Cadel Evans descends at the Criterium du Dauphine. (Getty Images)

Returning to the Tour de France in 2012 as a defending champion will be a first-time experience for Australian Cadel Evans, but the 35-year-old maintains he's not concerned by the pressure that comes with wearing the famous 'number one' on his back.

There's a little bit more to racing, and to the route than what's shown on paper, there are always a few surprises along the way.

Evans made history last year when he was crowned Tour champion, becoming the first Australian to win the French event in the race's 109 year palmares.

When he rolls-out for the Tour de France start in Liege he'll not only have race number one pinned to his back, but will also be wearing the yellow jersey. Evans gets that honour as under the rules when the race begins with a prologue, the defending champion wears yellow.

Speaking in a teleconference with the Australian media a week out from the Grand Boucle start, Evans said he was "feeling good" about his condition, confident with where he's at, and is unperturbed about any perceived burden associated with being defending champion.

"It's really not something I'm too concerned about," Evans said. "If anything I hope it'll be a psychological advantage over my rivals (wearing number one)."

While Evans does enter the three-week event as defending champion, the bookie's favourite is Sky rider Bradley Wiggins, who has already twice beaten Evans this season. At the Tour de Romandie an illness-affected Evans, clearly not at his best struggled against the British champion who went on to win the race.

And while at the key Tour tune-up, the Criterium du Dauphine, Evans looked more likely to match Wiggins come July, the Brit still looked indefatigable. Of particular concern for Evans was the strength of Wiggins in the Australian's favoured discipline, the individual time trial.

Compounding things further was the performance of Team Sky, which finished with four riders; Richie Porte, Chris Froome, Michael Rogers, and Wiggins, in the race's top-10.

Despite Sky's showing, Evans maintained last week he was happy that his own BMC team looked "better than in 2011", and had every faith in them performing and matching Sky come the Tour de France.

Evans countered suggestions that he could become isolated by Team Sky as he was on Col du Joux-Plane in the Dauphine, which saw the British squad raise eyebrows with its strength in numbers on the climb.

With more riders, tougher competition, and fatigue over three weeks, it would be unrealistic to suggest Sky could emulate its Dauphine ride over the whole of the French Grand Tour, Evans said.

"They seem to have a team where they will be able to control the race in the mountains. Obviously for Bradley Wiggins, they will look to control as much as they can on the climbs themselves, to allow him to focus on the time trials.
"We haven't seen a team have four riders at the pointy end of a race like (on the Joux-Plane) for a long time, and it was impressive.

"But I think at the Tour de France, their advantage will only be obvious when there are groups of 15-20 riders. I don't believe that they'll have so many riders as they did at the Dauphine in the final selections of four or five a the Tour."

Perhaps the ace up Evans sleeve will be his abilities to surprise and tactically outclass Wiggins, a glimpse of which came on the descent of the Joux-Plane where Evans attacked to gain a handful of seconds.

Though not vital to the final classification at the Dauphine, Evans' doggedness to fight out for the win, and stubbornness to concede defeat did show just how much the Australian can never been written off. Opportunism was what helped him secure the 2011 Tour de France, and the same could well be said in 2012.

"People tend to focus on the time trials, they have since the route was announced," said Evans. "But there's a little bit more to racing, and to the route than what's shown on paper, there are always a few surprises along the way."

The Tour de France begins on June 30, and will be broadcast live from start to finish on SBS ONE and streamed online at Cycling Central.

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