What worked a treat for BMC Racing last year is again working for them this year. As the old adage goes, if it ain’t broke, don't fix it, writes Anthony Tan from Metz.
7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:37 PM

You don't want to take your hands off the brake levers for a moment.
The defending champion remarked as such after the third stage but his comments could easily apply to the entire first week of the 2012 Tour de France.

Before we have begun Saturday's first mountain stage to La Planche des Belles Filles already four pre-race favourites have fallen out of contention.

Victims of a crash-marred sixth stage from Épernay to Metz, Alejandro Valverde, Frank Schleck, Robert Gesink and Ryder Hesjedal now find themselves 34th, 37th, 51st and 108th overall, respectively, 2:40, 2:43, 4:13 and 13:38 down on overall leader Fabian Cancellara, who sits seven seconds ahead of the bookies' favourite, Bradley Wiggins.

"Every day you wake up and pray you'll still be in the race (at the end of the stage)," remarked the maillot jaune on Friday.

"We'd normally say the real test starts tomorrow, but maybe it started today," Evans said.

Added Rudi Kemna, Skil-Shimano team manager, following Friday's stage: "GC riders don't belong up front. But they're there because they're afraid to lose time. And that is because the jury is very strict. They relentlessly ensure that riders don't get back in the peloton behind cars. If the jury is more flexible the race would stay a lot calmer and crashes will not happen that often."

For me, it only affirms BMC Racing's strategy to bring what first looks like a crew created for a Classic in spring, rather than a team hell-bent on winning the world's biggest bike race.

When matched up against the climbing might of Team Sky, it's true, BMC Racing do appear underpowered in the climbing stakes and much rests on the young shoulders of maillot blanc Tejay van Garderen and Amaël Moinard.

But as Jim Ochowicz, the team's general manager, told me Friday morning in Épernay: "It was a strategy we incorporated into our (Tour de France) program last year; one that we thought, based on the terrain and the opening stages, was advantageous to have a few (Classics) riders like that in the race. It worked last year, so we decided to do it again this year, and up until today, it's worked well for us."

Indeed, aside from the prologue in Liège, the crashes have kept on a-comin'.

For Evans, the two constants the past six days have been teammates Marcus Burghardt and George Hincapie. Just as they did last year, the pair has guided the 2011 Tour champ through the melee that characterises the closing kilometres, to ensure their fearless leader remained unscathed.

Take this quote from Evans after the opening road stage to Seraing, won by Friday's winner Peter Sagan: "Marcus took me along on the last flat section there to the bridge. We were doing 74 kilometres an hour just to move up on the flat."

"70 k's an hour (in the finale) is not unusual," Ochowicz told me.

"And you have to have a pretty strong rider that can actually do that for some distance in the wind. And we have four or five riders that can do that, so it's been a big help for Cadel."

And so, coming into next three stages that will unquestionably rattle and reshape the current leader board, Evans and his team begin the race for real fresh as daises.

"I'm feeling pretty fresh at this point. It hasn't been the hardest first week we've had, that's for sure. Not the Tours I've ridden at least – eight of them now. But now the (other) guys' legs are starting to get softened and tomorrow will be the first real test of who has really come here for the overall contention," said Evans.

In fact, BMC is looking – and riding – as strong and as unified as when they began the Tour one week ago. The same can't be said for the rest of his rivals including Wiggins, who lost Kanstantsin Sivtsov on Stage 3, with another of his mountain domestiques, Richie Porte, crashing not once, not twice, but thrice en route to Metz.

There's no point having a team of climbers if the climbers can't get themselves to the mountains healthy and unharmed.

So far, despite the chaos around him, things are falling neatly into place for Cadel.