By John Trevorrow
Cadel Evans rode himself right back into contention in this year's Tour de France with a powerful ride to the top of La Toussuire yesterday.
What a difference a day makes. Just when it looked like overnight leader Floyd Landis was going to keep the American tradition alive and that Evans challenge for the tour was in trouble, one awesome stage has changed everything.
King of the mountains leader Dane Michael Rasmussen took off soon after the start and set a ferocious pace, which caused a frantic reaction from the peloton. Rasmussen was too strong and held on to win by one minute 41 seconds but it was the strong attack of Spaniard Carlos Sastre on the final climb that looked the most dangerous.
Evans rode the final ten kilometres with new leader Spaniard Oscar Pereiro and German Andreas Kloden losing 13 seconds to Sastre, "I was good today. It was a much better race for me," a tired but beaming Evans said. Evans less circumspect about his chances for overall victory after his good ride, "Anything can happen in this Tour and almost everything has. So I won't say no."
Race leader Oscar Pereiro sees Evans as a threat to his yellow jersey, "Cadel Evans is a very strong rider in good form," he said.
Mark Sargeant (Davitamon-Lotto team manager) was impressed by the way that Evans has improved after he lost time to his main rivals on l'Alpe D'Huez, "It was a very good stage after yesterday…I was worried [after his first day in the Alps], he had to dig very deep yesterday. I am very happy," he said.
Robbie McEwen's bold prediction that Evans would win the Tour does not seem so far off the mark now, "OK he's moved up to fifth, there's a big possibility that he can move up. He can still even win it," he said.
"There is another tough day tomorrow but its not an uphill finish and then there is the time trial. He is still right in it. That's what I said about Cadel, he's a natural GC rider. He just keeps coming up day after day, so good on him."
When McEwen was asked what it would take for Evans to move into yellow he grabbed a GC sheet and said dryly, "Two minutes 56 secs."
McEwen was glad just to survive the stage after the grupetto finished outside the time limit, "Phew, [it was] a long day out. We had to ride 180 kilometres and 90 kilometres of it was uphill today. When you've got just about the best climber in the field up the front with Rasmussen going away near the start and going for it there was no way we were going to get inside the time limit. It was set at 12 percent and we rode a good tempo and we weren't too far outside it. They were always going to leave us in the race," he said.
Aussie Michael Rogers was very strong and is still in seventh position overall despite working tirelessly for Kloden. Floyd Landis cracked on the last climb when Rogers was asked to put the hammer down, "It seemed that Landis was all over the road," Rogers said, "I saw him at the bottom of the climb, he was struggling and I was still feeling alright. My team-mate Andreas Klöden asked me to put the pressure on, so I did my job."
"It was a torture. I think we moved up a few positions up on the GC, so we did a good move. I was happy with my ride as I could do my work. I was still able to hang on … what was left at the end (laughs) … it was a torture. This was just the plan of the day. We want to finish on the podium, doesn't matter if that is first, second or third. I think we showed our power today and we're happy.
Oscar Pereiro looked a very different rider to the one that lost nearly half an hour on stage 11. The tour contenders must be ruing the day that they let him get that lost time back, "Yeah, I think now everyone will be regretting giving him half an hour back. Just giving him half an hour, like here, have a Tour," Evans lamented.
Simon Gerrans has a dose of bronchitis but survived the stage, "Yeah [my health is] alright. I went hard over the first few hills just to make sure I was with the group and then when the grupetto formed just cruised back to that."