How all bar four GC favourites have managed to escape the first nine days unscathed is part luck, part intuition, and part teamwork. The upside is that Cadel Evans is one of those four, writes Anthony Tan from Saint-Flour.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:37 PM


Remarkably, the only other GC contenders [besides Andreas Klöden] to come through the first week of the Tour unscathed are BMC Racing's Evans, Leopard-Trek's Schleck brothers, HTC-Highroad's Tony Martin and Peter Velits, Astana's Vinokourov, Omega-Lotto's Jurgen Van den Broeck, Liquigas-Cannondale's Ivan Basso and Lampre-ISD's Damiano Cunego. Not surprisingly they are the men topping our virtual GC.
The irony is that the riders who have a history of being most
accident-prone – Cadel Evans, the brothers Schleck, Ivan Basso and
Damiano Cunego – have so far escaped incident in a Tour de France opener
that has experienced an unprecedented number of crashes in its first
nine days.

By 5:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon in Saint-Flour, the
ninth-stage finish of this year's race, Andreas Klöden, Alexandre
Vinokourov and Jurgen Van den Broeck were no longer part of the Lucky
Ones.

Particularly for the latter two, who both crashed heavily
on the sinuous stage that began in the Puy-de-Dôme and contained no less
than eight categorised climbs.

Vinokourov fractured his femur
and Van den Broeck broke his scapula (shoulder blade), forcing two more
abandons from Wilcockson's original list of GC contenders to watch –
adding to the earlier departures of Janez Brajkovic (DNF Stage 5),
Bradley Wiggins (DNF Stage 7) and Chris Horner (DNS Stage 8). For the
most part, Klöden retained his placing relative to his GC rivals, but
for the two-time runner-up (2004, '06) Monday's first day of rest could
not have come at a more opportune time.

There was also the crash of David Zabriskie (Garmin-Cervélo) Sunday, who abandoned after breaking his wrist.

And
earlier on, Alberto Contador's second fall in the space of a week,
where some claim the Saxo Bank-Sungard leader was pushed by Katusha's
Vladimir Karpets but from the replays I've seen, no definitive
conclusion can be drawn in that regard.

Then, if all that drama
was not nearly enough, there was the completely shambolic sideswipe by a
press car from the official broadcaster, who, when trying to overtake
the breakaway group containing new maillot jaune, Thomas Voeckler
(Europcar), sent Juan Antonio Flecha (Sky) straight to the asphalt and
Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil) catapulting into the fence.

Mon dieu!

But
apart from the inattentive buffoons in the press car, who most likely
will be stoned to death on the rest day in Le Lioran Cantal, why so many
crashes?

And just how have Evans, the Schlecks, Basso and Cunego managed to avoid them all?

One
could argue it's down to positioning and keeping your main man up
front, as BMC Racing has been at pains to do the first week-and-a-half.

Though
some pundits have argued Evans' men have been expending too much energy
and Australia's great white GC hope will likely be left unassisted in
the Pyrenées and Alps to come.

That is not quite true, for it has
been Marcus Burghardt, George Hincapie and Manuel Quinziato doing much
of the legwork to keep Cadel out of trouble. BMC's climbing men, Amaël
Moinard, Steve Morabito and Ivan Santaromita, have been wisely kept at
bay, and probably will be till Thursday, the first Pyrenean leg from
Cugnaux to Luz Ardiden.

With Evans, Basso, Cunego and the
Schlecks, one also has to say an element of luck was also involved, as
Leopard-Trek general manager, Brian Nygaard, told me the day before at
the start of Stage 8 in Aigurande.

"Some of it, you can base on
the fact we have riders who know how to ride in this position, who are
technically really apt, and with their experience, are able to foresee
problems.

"But a lot of it is down to sheer luck. You can avoid
[the crashes] as much as you can, but if people crash in front of you,
you're an easy target," Nygaard said.

Have you ever seen so many crashes among the GC riders in the opening week of the Tour de France? I asked him.

"No…
You think the stage last year on the cobblestones, there would [have
been] something like that, but it was basically just Frank [Schleck] and
Lance [Armstrong that encountered problems].

"If you do an
almost forensic analysis of what happened [so far this year], often when
there's one crash more crashes happen, and often in the peloton, the GC
guys are placed pretty close to each other.

"I think it's really hard to dissect exactly what the reason is," he said. "We just count ourselves lucky – for now."

Is that why you guys are pushing to keep race radios? I quizzed Nygaard.

"If
there weren't the radios the car would constantly have to go up to the
peloton… It would create even more problems. There's just not room for
cars up there. Even for motorcycles to get back up to the peloton is
already [a] crash-prone [situation].

"We also must make sure we
take care of the spectators, because there's a lot of people on the
roads and sometimes the roads are narrow. I think there would be a
security thing if the radios weren't there because there would be too
many cars.

"Take, for instance, a scenario where one of the GC
guys has a puncture. Race radio, obviously they can't see what happens
to 180 guys at the same time. The faster you know, the faster you can
get up there and service your rider. If that's not the case, you realise
it too late, because race radio doesn't cover it that fast. I'm worried
that will cause havoc if we don't have race radios."

And quite tellingly, Nygaard rated this weekend's stages as dangerous, before that became a reality.

"I
think if you don't," he said, "then you risk what happens to some of
the other teams. I'm sure [the GC contenders] crashed because they
weren't aware, but if you underestimate any stage in this Tour, you
might find yourself in an unfortunate situation…"

If I could draw
one conclusion after the first nine days, and speaking parochially as
an Aussie supporter – which I'm unashamedly so – things have never
looked so good for Cadel.

And Cadel has never looked so good.