Cadel Evans came into this year’s Tour aiming simply to see what he was capable of. He had only one Grand Tour under his belt prior to the race and, given that injury and other factors prevented him doing another three week event since the 2002 Tour of Italy, needed a new reference point.
The Davitamon.Lotto rider has ridden strongly throughout the Tour, finishing seventh in yesterday’s time trial and looking set for eighth overall in Paris this afternoon.
"I didn't have a fantastic day, but it was good ... it was good," Evans said. "I wouldn't say I am a slouch in the time trial when I'm going good. First Tour, remember, not a bad start.
When asked how it feels to finish top 10 in the Tour de France, he didn't want to tempt fate. "I will be happy when I pass the Champs Elysées. It is not over until you get there."
Fellow Aussie Luke Roberts is also doing his first Tour but rode well in the time trial, posting the provisional best time early on and finally placing 17th. "It's good to be in good form at the end of your first three week race," he said. "It's good to finish with good legs. I am glad I have been able to show I was worth having on the Tour."
Stuart O'Grady is currently scrapping it out with Thor Hushovd for the maillot vert. He needed to finish in the top 10 to gain some vital points, but it was not to be. "After being sick a couple of days' ago, I wasn't prepared to go full gas," O'Grady said. " It would have left me flat for the final stage and I would dearly love to win into Paris. The battle for the Green is almost over, but stranger things have happened. If I won on the Champs Elysées and Thor didn't run top six, I could win. Not likely, but not impossible." O'Grady added.
He and Hushovd are almost certain to settle the maillot vert between them, although two time winner Robbie McEwen has a slim chance if the other two riders finish far behind him on the Champs Elysées. "It was a surprisingly tough time trial," he said. "I couldn't get into the zone. As a matter of fact I couldn't find the zone was - wherever it was, I wasn't."
"The first hill was actually harder than the categorized one. It was one of those stages where you can't go too easy or you will get eliminated, so you have to dig in. I feel confident with my form for tomorrow, the biggest challenge is making sure it is a bunch finish."
Baden Cooke is another aiming to win on the most famous street in the world, but he'll need to rediscover sprinting legs that he has lacked in this year’s Tour to do so. Still, he’s staying optimistic. "Yeah, today was pretty hard, especially for a non time-triallist like me. You've got to dig in just to make it. If you don't mentally get into it, it psyches you out."
When asked his tactics for the final stage, his answer was simple. "Win the sprint! I have just got to get out there, get into it and get into the old scheme of things."
Young Simon Gerrans will complete his first Tour today. "Yes, still one day to go. They tell me it's pretty hard tomorrow" he joked. "My big objective in the race has been to get my minus points back. (Gerrans was docked 5 points for a slow bidon exchange from his team car) You don't want to finish a race with minus points. Anyway I got them back the day I ran third."
More from Cadel
"The boss was giving me all the information on Vino, Ullrich, Landis ... It feels as I have been doing maths for three weeks."
"I got a bit sloppy in a couple of patches but I would say it was close to the best I could have done at this level. There was a bit of head wind and a false flat, but that doesn't really suit my physique. The steeper it is, the faster I go. But of course when you are in the big gear, it is the heavier guys, with the more power who go better on the flat because of your power to weight ratio."
"I am just here to do a good Tour. See what happens and work on it next year. I just hope it doesn't rain tomorrow. That's all I hope. Because when the Champs Elysées gets slippery in the wet. That's my only thing to worry about for now. It’s not so much your legs that are stuffed, you are concentrating so much for three weeks you get really tired in your head. When you are absolutely going full gas, it is easy to make a mistake. One little slip of the road and it is all over."
"I haven't seen the internet, read a newspaper or heard from anyone in Australia, I have just been focussing on my race. I have no idea of what I have done or what my ride has done. I haven't even realised it myself yet, because I have been focused, day by day, doing what I have got to do. It takes a lot of concentration. It will probably hit a week from now."
"The hills were tough but I knew they would be. But it was good that they were more steady than steep.
That allowed me to get into a good tempo. It was nice to post the fastest time even if it won't last for long I wasn't surprised though. As I said before, it was a shame that the day I did get into a break happened to be a day when it had such a steep finish (Mende)."