All things being equal, Anthony Tan has no doubt that Cadel Evans will be wearing the maillot jaune into Paris this Sunday, as he writes from atop Alpe d’Huez.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:37 PM

Even though I will be there in Grenoble tomorrow, unashamedly cheering
him on, I do not need to see him perform in the time trial.

In this race of truth, I know what he can do, he knows what he can do – and I believe he will do it.

By
some margin, Cadel Evans' scariest moment Friday was on the slopes of
the Col du Télégraphe, the day's first climb. With some 15km ridden
something was amiss, for he had to jump off his Swiss-made BMC machine
thrice, finally changing his bike the third time.

The defending
champion, Alberto Contador, who initiated the early move that Andy
Schleck latched onto, did not wait for his erstwhile Australian
companion, but instead forged ahead. A little like last year on the Port
de Balès, when Andy Schleck dropped his chain, I thought to myself…

"The early attack of Contador, I was sort of expecting it," Evans said after the stage.

"It
was early; a really, really bold move, like what Andy did yesterday. I
was sitting well but I was feeling like absolute… I was feeling pretty
average. I think there was something wrong with my rear wheel, it was
slowing me down a bit; when there was a little acceleration, it just put
me over the limit, which was a little bit strange.

"I think [the
rear wheel] was rubbing on the frame. I wasn't sure about it, but it
sure felt like it! And for that reason, I changed bikes. When they're
going pretty fast in front and you have to stop three times, the chances
of getting back by yourself are pretty limited."

Perhaps in the
hope he might be able to stage one of the greatest comebacks in modern
Tour de France history, more likely, it was the Spaniard's last attempt
to save face in a Grande Boucle he'd probably rather forget.

'Would
Cadel see them again?' I wondered, before Tweeting a prediction: "If
Cadel does not limit his deficit to either of the Schlecks by 2:00 by
day's end, he will lose the Tour."

* * *

Over the Télégraphe and onto the hard side of the Col du Galibier, Contador and Schleck forged onwards and upwards.

The
Luxembourger knew if they came to the following day's time trial with
less than a minute's advantage over Evans, he would most probably lose
the Tour. And if he came to the TT with two minutes or more, than he
would most probably win.

As on the stage to Galibier
Serre-Chevalier Thursday, Evans was forced to do all the work, limiting
his deficit on the 16.7km climb and hoping that he could latch back on
before Bourg d'Oisans, best known among cyclists for being situated
1.2km from the base of Alpe d'Huez, where Friday's 109.5km stage, the
final Alpine leg, would end.

Thanks largely to no-one except
himself, Cadel threw his engine into overdrive – assiduously,
persistently, bringing himself and his hangers-on back, which included
Fränk Schleck, the man I was most concerned about.

The elder of
the Schleck brothers had sat on all day yesterday, and so far, all day
today. As the Contador and Evans group arrived en masse at the foot of
the Alpe it was logical to expect an attack – but Fränk was one of the
first to be dropped and even though he got back on, it was clear today
was not his day.

* * *

Contador had gone after Ryder Hesjedal and eventual stage winner and new maillot blanc, Pierre Rolland. But Evans didn't need to worry; he had 2:32 on the Spaniard at the start of today and thus was not a threat.

With
Voeckler gone on the Télégraphe 70km back, the Schleck brothers were
the only men Cadel needed to concern himself with. And as he most likely
calculated, so long as he maintained the gaps as they stood on the
general classification, he could win the bike race with a superlative
ride in Grenoble tomorrow.

By day's end, the time between Evans and the brothers Schleck stood still.

* * *

Not much more than an hour after the stage, Andy Schleck rolled into the press conference, the maillot jaune
on his bony shoulders. 'Have you ridden the time trial course yet,' I
asked him, 'and if so, what are your impressions? Is it a course that
suits your ability?'

"Honestly, it's one of the stages that I haven't seen," he said, rather surprisingly.

"I
saw it on TV [at the Critérium du Dauphiné] and I'm going to see it
tomorrow morning. But I know what it's a little bit like: everybody
tells me it's a time trial that suits me good, so… I hope to show a
great performance tomorrow."

Even though he said "I'm confident I
can actually keep this [jersey] till Paris", to me, Schleck the Younger
appeared nervous. And to have not ridden a stage that may decide
whether you win or lose?

* * *

As Evans said yesterday,
the time trial "was always going to be crucial", and having ridden it a
month earlier at the Dauphiné and placed fifth to Tony Martin, conceding
1:20, he also said, "there can be big gaps if you arrive there a little
less fatigued than those around you".

Contrast this with the
32.1km time trial the Schlecks rode at the Tour de Suisse. On the ninth
and final stage, Fabian Cancellara won in 41:01 and Andy and Fränk
conceded 2:32 and 3:06, respectively.

So in theory, you would
expect the Schlecks to lose even more time in a 42.5km test. But as last
year's final time trial at the Tour showed, strange things happen after
19 days of racing your guts out.

On the penultimate day's TT at
the 2010 Tour, a 52km time test from Bordeaux to Pauillac, won by
Cancellara, Contador was 35th at 5:43 to the Swiss Time Lord, Andy
Schleck was 49th at 6:14, and Evans, riding with a broken elbow the past
fortnight, was 166th at 10:57 – fourth last!

Cadel summed up his
strategy tomorrow as thus: "Start as fast as possible, finish as fast
as possible… [and] hope it's fast enough."

Follow Anthony on Twitter: @anthony_tan