It would be rash to write off Cadel Evans’ chances of winning this year’s Tour de France, even if Andy Schleck’s performance Thursday almost defied belief, writes Anthony Tan from Galibier Serre-Chevalier.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:37 PM


They really rode fast at the front; I don't quite understand how they made so much time
When Schleck the Younger made his bid for victory with some 60
kilometres to go on the Col d'Izoard, did Cadel Evans or any of the
other favourites make a mistake?

No – after two-and-a-half week's mediocrity, no-one could predict that Andy Schleck would last as long and as strong as he did.

And
unlike those on other teams, Leopard-Trek dished out a card their
adversaries could not afford to play, for only the team from Luxembourg
had two bona fide contenders-in-waiting.

"I was sitting right
behind [Andy Schleck], watching him getting ready to attack," said Evans
at the top of the Galibier Thursday, after singlehandedly bringing
himself back into contention with a sterling performance in the final 10
kilometres of the 200.5km Alpine slog.

"I was ready, but I was more looking at the time gaps and the numbers. I can't control an attack 30K [or more] out.

"And
if Andy comes back, Fränk's probably going to go away. With Andy away,
there's only one I have to control in the final. Just on a numbers
basis, 20-30k block-headwind, up a valley… we are 40 [strong] with one
to nine guys riding at the front, and they are four riding at the front.


"They really rode fast at the front," he said. "I don't quite understand how they made so much time."

Furthermore, Evans had no idea the maillot jaune
of Thomas Voeckler, or Damiano Cunego, or Ivan Basso, or Alberto
Contador, or Samuel Sanchez – the latter pair clearly on a bad day –
would be unable to contribute to the chase.

I say unable because
if they could and chose not to, then I would immediately label them a
bunch of buffoons, for they all had as much to lose as him.

Interestingly, Evans singled out one team he felt should have contributed but didn't.

"I
had to put it on the line," said the BMC leader, "because it was my
tour to win and mine to lose. It's also a bit bizarre when Voeckler's
team stops riding and he has the yellow jersey.

"They've ridden a
lot all week, but he still had a team-mate in the end and just sort of
looked at me to do the work, but I'm alone, too."

* * *

Whatever the case, this Tour de France grows ever the more beguiling.

I
would say at this point, and with Friday's stage to Alpe d'Huez
looming, there are only four riders left capable of winning, though more
likely three; those being the Schlecks and Evans.

Unless, of
course, Cunego, Basso, Samuel Sanchez or Contador stage the impossible
and do what Andy Schleck did today – but even more daring. However, the
short, intense stage we have on paper – just 109.5km long including
42.4km of climbing – does not really lend itself to such a move,
especially given the all-important Grenoble time trial on Saturday,
which could see any gains reversed if one goes too deep.

Clearly,
if Schleck the Elder is to win this year, he must attack à la Carlos
Sastre at the 2008 Tour. And if Evans is to win this year, then he must
keep his deficit to either of the Schlecks to around two minutes –
though preferably one-and-a-half minutes or less – before the Saturday's
42.5km race against the clock.

"[The time trial] was always
going to be crucial," said Evans, "but as long as we are within one or
two minutes of each other… [It is] such a hard time trial, there can be
big gaps if you arrive there a little less fatigued than those around
you."

And if Voeckler is to win this year, well, I think I'll fall off my chair.

His body language and demeanour suggest he's nine-tenths cooked. But if he somehow manages to keep the maillot jaune
coming into the final time trial, the power of the golden fleece he's
been wearing the past nine stages may just make the impossible,
possible.

Follow Anthony on Twitter: @anthony_tan