It may be early days, but so far, there is everything to suggest Cadel Evans is ready, and some of his rivals are not, writes Anthony Tan from Les Essarts.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:37 PM

Two stages down, and we've already seen so much.

On
Saturday's first stage, Alberto Contador, in a scene reminiscent of the
windswept stage to La Grande-Motte at the 2009 Tour de France, was
caught out again, as 78 riders sped away from the Tour favourite, some
perhaps relishing his misfortune.

The Spaniard, who lost 1:17 to
stage winner Philippe Gilbert by day's end, could not have avoided the
fall, caused by an Astana rider crashing into a roadside spectator. But
with spills beforehand and multiple traffic islands and speed bumps on
the road to Mont des Alouettes Les Herbiers, should Bertie's troops not
have been more attentive and proactive, and moved their man inside the
first 30-50 riders?

Maybe he's not made of Teflon, after all…

Though
Contador was not alone. It was also unusual to see other GC contenders
caught out in the melée, namely Garmin-Cervélo's Christian Vande Velde
and Ryder Hesjedal, and Astana's Roman Kreuziger (all three losing 1:52
to Gilbert), as well as Euskaltel-Euskadi's Samuel Sanchez (losing
1:17). Perhaps the latter is not so surprising, for the Orange Armada
have never been particularly good in the Tour's opening week, and
perennially force themselves to play a game of catch-up in the
mountains.

Contrast this with Cadel Evans' BMC Racing team, whose
men George Hincapie and Marcus Burghardt delivered in spades – keeping
the 2009 world champ out of trouble and right at the front, prime time.
Not only did they do that, they were largely responsible for augmenting
the at-one-time-32-second-advantage to well over a minute by day's end.

And
so fresh was Evans on the 2.2km finishing climb that partly resembled
the Cauberg climb used in the Amstel Gold Race, the Aussie battler was
second strongest on the day and was the only one close to Gilbert, eking
out three valuable seconds on rivals Jurgen Van den Broeck, the Schleck
brothers, Bradley Wiggins, Ivan Basso and Robert Gesink.

"George
helped me really well going into the bottom of the climb and I was
really perfectly positioned," Evans said. "I thought I would go
conservatively but then a Katusha or Astana rider attacked and I got a
bit closed in. I tried to go across to Gilbert, but it was just a little
bit too late."

* * *


The time gained and morale boost must surely have had some impact in the following day's team time trial in Les Essarts.

As
BMC Racing team manager John Lelangue told me the day before, the time
gaps were never going to be huge, mainly because of the non-technical
nature of the 23-kilometre course (combined with less than 10 metres of
vertical elevation, it was nothing like the Montpellier TTT at the '09
Tour). But to finish as the second-best team, just four seconds off
winners Garmin-Cervélo?

What an achievement! Félicitations, BMC!

And note this: Out of the top five teams in Sunday's TTT, BMC finished
with the most riders on the same time as seven of their men brought home
the bacon, placing Evans just one second off new maillot jaune, Thor
Hushovd. "We've been quietly working away, doing our homework and
keeping at it," Evans said afterwards. "Our first goal was not to lose
any time and our second goal was to actually gain time. The fact that we
were actually there, nearly in the running for the win, was really
something."

Next
test is Tuesday. The finish of the 172.5km fourth stage is not unlike
the opening stage to Mont des Alouettes, except harder, as the
Mûr-de-Bretagne averages 6.9% over 2km (Mont des Alouettes was 2.2km at
4.7%).

The locals call it the Breton Alpe d'Huez, and
Jean-François Pescheux, ASO competition director, says: "The road rises
in such a straight line that even from the bottom the finish is almost
visible. It's going to be impressive, with steep ramps right from the
bottom."

This team is strong. This team is united. This team is ready. This team has one goal, and we all know what that is. Bring it!