Swiss squad’s Tour debut could come a season early
Cadel Evans has indicated he’s confident in BMC Racing’s ability to deliver him an optimal racing programme following the announcement he would be riding for the Swiss squad in 2010. Whilst the team hasn’t yet competed in a Grand Tour, Evans’ sentiments, coupled with directeur sportif John Lelangue’s statement of intent to ride the Tour de France, may calm the nerves of those who thought the Australian’s move would rule him out of la grande boucle next July.
Evans told Cyclingnews that the move to BMC Racing, “had been in the works for a while – well before the world championships. We just wanted to do everything correctly, within the rules in terms of confidentiality and so on.
“When the idea [of moving to BMC Racing] first occurred to me I thought, ‘It’s BMC, not a big team or anything’; and of course when I’m making a decision like this I do a fair bit of research,” said Evans. “Then we looked at the names in the team, the plans they have plus where they want to go – everybody [in the team] wants to go to the Tour de France in 2011.
“At that point Andy Rihs and John Lelangue said, ‘Maybe you’d be interested in going to the Tour in 2010…’ and I thought, ‘Oh…’ We had a couple of meetings and it was amazing how everything was in place and ready to go,” he said. “I was just like, ‘This is just such a neat fit for me’.”
The Australian, who finished second in the Tour in 2007 and 2008 before winning this year’s International Cycling Union (UCI) World Championship road race in Mendrisio, Switzerland, will undoubtedly be the team’s Grand Tour general classification gun. Evans will be riding alongside the likes of George Hincapie, Alessandro Ballan and Karsten Kroon. It’s a quality line-up managed by people who have experience in the season’s biggest races, such as Lelangue.
“John Lelangue lives in Belgium and we have a Swiss manufacturer for our bikes [as headline sponsor]. The company wants to improve its bikes the best way it can, using a professional team to do so. I thought, ‘This is already a good start’,” said Evans.
Evans lives close to the Swiss-Italian border with his Italian wife, Chiara, and is virtually regarded as a local. He indicated that riding for a Swiss team was an obvious choice.
The Lelangue connection may be the team’s best weapon in its quest to start next year’s Tour, however. Lelangue is a former employee of Tour organiser Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) and has managed the Phonak team at the event. The Swiss squad has already been invited to the Giro d’Italia and despite only saying that he will ride the Giro “sometime before the end of my career” Evans has his sights firmly on riding next year’s edition of the season’s biggest race.
"We have a plan to go to the biggest races, including the Grand Tours. That includes the Tour de France," said Lelangue recently. "This will be possible since our sporting level has greatly increased in standard."
Evans explained that he’s been in contact with the Belgian directeur, their working relationship developing quickly. “I didn’t know John Lelangue personally but of course we’ve been having some discussions recently and we’ll be planning every day between know and the Tour de France so everything’s in place, ready to go,” said Evans.
Evans neither confirmed nor denied that he was riding next year’s opening ProTour event, the Tour Down Under. Given BMC Racing’s status as a Professional Continental team, a start in the January event would be difficult to obtain. “Whether we start the Tour Down Under or not… I’d definitely like to keep the Australian public happy and race on Australian soil with the rainbow jersey, but until a few hours ago I didn’t even know what team I was on! It means we have to do one thing at a time,” he explained.
Team principal Rihs’ previous engagement in professional cycling ended badly when former ProTour squad Phonak disbanded at the end of the 2006 season after several torrid years. They included winning and subsequently losing the Tour de France after Floyd Landis tested positive to synthetic testosterone, in addition to a string of doping cases that eventually forced Rihs to withdraw his sponsorship due to bad publicity.
“Of course that’s something I considered but then Andy Rihs was trying to win the Tour de France and Floyd Landis was a rider capable of that,” said Evans. “What Floyd Landis did outside of the team I really don’t know.
“It raises two points, though: the fact that Andy Rihs comes back with another team and another project with the same goal after that experience shows his enthusiasm and passion for the sport. He also comes back very carefully and guarded,” he explained.
“Another aspect is Andy Rihs’ mentality to cycling – he only discovered it recently but he’s an entrepreneur, he’s quite a wealthy man and now he conducts more than half of his business on the bike,” he said. “He’s just discovered cycling and he sees it as this great recreational tool and he wants to promote the sport of cycling, which fits in well with my mentality. And he wants to win the Tour too, so we have a few things in common.”
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