By John Trevorrow
Cadel Evans (Predictor Lotto) had a close encounter of the female kind. Just after crossing the line at Angouleme, a woman ran in front of him, and Evans had to revert to an "Aussie Rules" style hip and shoulder move.
Fortunately, the GC podium contender remained upright although the same can't be said for the spectator. "I copped one at the finish but I'm alright (rubbing his shoulder)," said Evans.
Commenting on the upcoming time trial, Evans said, "The last two days have been good recovery after the Pyrenees. That's normal to recover for the time trial. We will know all the answers out on the road tomorrow, through all the time checks and then at the finish."
Although he admitted his chances looked small after the Pyrenees, Evans was more optimistic now. "Yeah, five minutes to make up in the time trial was a bit daunting, but now I'm a lot more confident." With Michael Rassmussen (Rabobank) gone from the race, Evans is only 1.50 off current leader Alberto Contador (Discovery Channel).
Evans showed some cunning and strength in the 18th stage by closely following the sprinters' teams, who created a gap in the main peloton as they barrelled down the final few kilometres of the stage. Tom Boonen's Quick.Step-Innergetic squad put on the gas to set up their man to collect all-important points in the green jersey category. Although he was only sprinting for fifth place in the stage, the points were very important to Boonen as well as his main rivals, Barloworld's Robert Hunter and the evergreen Erik Zabel (Milram). Those three riders finished in that order, and retain those positions in the green jersey competition, with Boonen now 24 points clear of the South African, Hunter.
QSI did a clinical job of setting up Boonen for the sprint, and tucked into this fast-finishing group was Evans, while current yellow jersey Contador was gapped and led a second group across the line, three seconds in arrears. The only Disco rider with the strength to stay in the sprinters' train was Yaroslav Popovych; Levi Leipheimer was also gapped and he, too, lost time to the Australian.