By Jean-François Quénet in Nice
There might be a new Australian face in the Tour de France this year: national champion Matthew Lloyd is short listed by Silence-Lotto as one of the 14 possible starters to ride alongside Cadel Evans for the Grande Boucle. The Victorian rode a very good Paris-Nice. "I wasn't feeling too good at the start when the weather was bad. Pretty much I hadn't raced since the Tour Down Under one and half month ago," he explained.
But he played an important role in Evans' win up the Mont Ventoux where he finished 24th himself. "We're very happy with what he did here in Paris-Nice," Silence-Lotto's directeur sportif Hendrik Redant said.
The Belgian squad looks more and more concerned about backing Evans in the hills. They are aware that this is the biggest opportunity to become the first Belgian team to win the Tour de France with the absence of Astana's Alberto Contador and Levi Leipheimer. The core of climbers around Evans is composed of Yaroslav Popovych, Dario Cioni, Mario Aerts, Johan Vansummeren and 25-year-old Lloyd, who is in his second year as a professional.
Lloyd rode the Tour of Italy last year, but he doesn't have a precise calendar yet for the 2008 season after the Settimana Coppi e Bartali and the Tour of the Basque country which he'll do together with Evans. The Giro once again is an option, and the Tour is another one. "I have to keep progressing, to be stronger and prove that I can become a consistent rider," he told Cyclingnews in Nice before the last stage of the 'race to the sun'.
"We don't put any pressure on him," Redant explained. "We don't want to make him a Tour de France rider at any cost this year. We want to see how he develops. He's close to Evans. He's also an Australian. There is a chance that he'll do it. It depends on how things go at the next races."