By Gregor Brown in Cholet, France
It was only 29.5 kilometres and still two days before the first mountain test, but Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) turned Tuesday's time trial in Cholet, France to his advantage. The 31 year-old delivered a punch to fellow general classification rivals, with the closest - Denis Menchov (Rabobank) - finishing seven seconds adrift.
"It is a good start, but it is a long, long way to Paris," said Evans.
The pundits were impressed with the Tour de France favourite, who finished second in last year's race, after he delivered the goods in the first real test for general classification riders. Evans finished fourth on the day - behind Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner), Kim Kirchen (Team Columbia) and David Millar (Garmin-Chipotle) - but took time that he will seek to defend when the mountains arrive.
Evans put seven seconds into Menchov, around a minute into Damiano Cunego (Lampre) and Andy Schleck (Team CSC-Saxo Bank), and 1'07" to Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne).
"I just wanted to see my level against the others," said Evans. "From Dauphiné [Libéré] to here, if you look at the time trial results, I am on a good progression I think. In my mind this is the first appointment for the general classification favourites - so far so good."
Good indeed. Evans now holds a 1'06" buffer over Valverde in the classification standings. "Every minute and second I can gain on him is a very good sign," said Evans.
Evans will be allowed the role of defence for Thursday's mountain-top arrival to Super Besse, something that gives him comfort. Even with a time buffer up his sleeve, Evans faces men who know how to pull off giant-killing stages.
"Like we saw yesterday, day to day, everything changes," he said. "For now, it is a good start."