By Gerard Knapp
The Australian who's likely to lose his mantle as the country's greatest living road cyclist – should Cadel Evans move one step up the podium when the Tour de France finishes in Paris on July 27 – has given his total support to the Silence-Lotto rider. Speaking in Sydney at the launch of the Malvern Star 'Legend' series of bicycles, Phil Anderson said of Evans, "I think he can win it... well, I'm backing him.
"He's going to have some very stiff competition, and he won't want to take the lead in the first few days. It's probably best to wait until the final week," he said.
Anderson predicted the individual time trial on stage four will be the first real test, and then stage six from Aigurande to Super-Besse, a 195.5km stage that includes two serious climbs, could cause the first real shake-out of the Tour.
"That stage is really different to other years," said the 13-time rider of the Tour. He said to have a mountain-top finish in the first week – when it's previously been the domain of the sprinters – could really do some damage as it comes relatively early in the race when no riders have really had a chance to test their climbing legs and find their rhythm in the smaller gears.
"All the major contenders will have to stay within striking distance of each other," he said, "because if they don't, it will really put them in a difficult position."
The other decisive stage that could blow the race apart is stage 17on Wednesday, July 23, the 210.5 km trundle from Embrun to L'Alpe d'Huez, taking in the Galibier, the Col du Croix de Fer and finally the 21 hairpin-turn monster up to the ski resort of L'Alpe d'Huez. Anderson predicted the mountain top finish on what is the final serious climbing stage of the 2008 Tour will be decisive.
Evans had as his trump card is his ability against the clock. "I was really surprised by his time-trialling last year (in the Tour)," Anderson said, "and who knows, it could also come down to the final TT this year, too."
Indeed, the whole peloton will be trying to deliver the "rhythm" that Tour Director Christian Prudhomme was after when designing the 2008 parcours. "We wanted a first week of racing with much more rhythm," Prudhomme explained at the launch last November. "With no prologue, an uphill finish that will suit different types of sprinters at the end of stage one, with a short time trial on stage four and the first mountain [Super-Besse] only 48 hours later, we have decided to change the scenario."
(Look for an upcoming feature on the launch of the new Malvern Star 'Legend Series' of bicycles coming soon on Cyclingnews.)