...But it won't be this year
By John Trevorrow in Alpe d'Huez
Cadel Evans was gallant in defeat on L'Alpe d'Huez, but could not hold the wheel of American Floyd Landis and the rejuvenated Andreas Klöden when it really counted in the final kilometres of the most prestigious mountain in world cycling.
The scene was set for a battle for this year's Tour as the main peloton raced to the slopes of Alpe d'Huez. At one point Evans was with Landis and Klöden and the three looked set for a three-way battle up the mountain for the maillot jaune. But it was not to be. Evans gradually dropped back to finish in 16th place, one spot behind fellow Aussie Michael Rogers, but a dangerous one minute 39 seconds behind American Landis, who is back in yellow.
"Not good enough today. Not good enough. That's all there is to it. Yeah, I tried, but hey. Everything was at another level to the other day," a disappointed Evans said. "I just wasn't good enough. T-Mobile and Phonak really put the pressure on and I kept as close to them as I could. Klöden and Landis were very strong and I just hung in as long as I could."
When asked if he could still win the Tour, he replied. "I don't know the times yet but I don't think that I can win now. But I am not out of it for a podium...If the others keep going like this, there's not much that I can do. The level compared to the other day was higher, and I just wasn't good enough. Honestly, I think I can do better than that - C'est la vie."
Luxembourg's Frank Schleck was a deserved winner of the prestigious stage and rode clear of Italian Damiano Cunego, refusing to be closed down by the chasing Landis/Klöden group to win by 1'06. The pair was part of a group of 25 that fell apart on the final climb. Schleck was strongest and in the final two kilometres, actually increased his lead.
Robbie McEwen, who crossed the line doing a wheelie, looks to have taken full control of the battle for the green jersey as his closest rival, the powerful Belgian Tom Boonen, had to withdraw with a severe chest infection. "Yeah, I promised someone a couple of weeks ago that I would do a wheelie on Alpe d'Huez so I had to keep my word. There were so many Aussies on the hill. There were flags and inflatable kangaroos and lot of supporters…it was great, it was really fun."
What does Tom Boonen's withdrawal mean? "Obviously it takes out the man who was sitting in second spot at 30 points and closest to me. That's the Tour for you. If you are a bit run down and feeling tired and you're not 100 percent mentally and physically then you're not going to make it. But one of the requirements to winning a green jersey is making it to Paris, and that's what I still have to do. Boonen is out of the race and that takes some pressure off. But I still have to stay concentrated and make it to Paris."
When asked if he expected a tougher challenge from Boonen, McEwen said that the Belgian had been riding well. "It has been a tough challenge. The last days he's been very aggressive. Although he hasn't been winning he's been consistent in the sprints and had a lot of points. But this year I was just better."
Finally, AG2R's Simon Gerrans said he was feeling under pressure today due to illness. "It was a long hard stage. Basically the break went from the start and the peloton didn't let them get too far so the pace was on. I got dagged a bit on the first climb, but got back on through the feed. I then got dagged again on the second climb and then just cruised in. That's if you can cruise up Alpe d'Huez.
"I suffered a bit with bronchitis so it's more bloody antibiotics. My body is getting a bit used to them by now. I guess after two weeks of racing, and being a bit short on preparation. I'm just a bit run down."