Time is running out for Cadel Evans at this year's Vuelta a España. Wednesday's stage to Talavera de la Reina is mainly flat and expected to end in another bunch sprint and the same can be said for Sunday's final stage to Madrid. That presents the Australian with three days in which to try to make up his 1:51 deficit to overall leader Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne).
It's a task that he admits is a difficult one. "I will continue on as I do, trying to do the best Vuelta as I can," he told Cyclingnews. "Losing eight seconds for not being able to sprint for the time bonus one day; that happens, and maybe losing a second here and second there; okay, but I lost one minute and 23 seconds on Saturday and that might be the difference between first and third."
The Silence - Lotto rider's chances took a nose dive on the stage to Sierra Nevada. He punctured at a crucial moment, lost time due to a slow wheel change and, to add insult to injury, received a penalty for accepting a bottle once on his new bike.
"I was going really well," he said. "I was really happy with the way the Vuelta was going, sitting there at eight seconds or whatever it was. I was in a perfect position, but then an incredible, ridiculous chain of circumstances on the Monachil has put me out of that perfect position, to nearly two minutes back.
"The thing that cost me was firstly the incompetence of the neutral service guys, and also the fact that the [television and photo] media and their motorbikes had blocked the road. That meant that it took a long time for my team to get up to me with a spare bike."
Evans implied that, had the puncture happened at another point in the race, those problems would probably have been avoided. "I punctured near the top of the climb. I know it very well and also the descent. I knew it would be better to change it on a big [main] road, but because I had a half-deflated tyre, if I had rolled it on that descent I would have killed myself."
Evans' spare bike did not have a bottle and so he accepted one from the team car. He was penalised for this, as was Ezequiel Mosquera (Xacobeo Galicia). Evans, like many others, has commented on the number of penalties handed out in this year's Vuelta and says that officials are being heavy-handed.
"Getting a penalty for a bottle is crazy. If you look at Mosquera's situation, he took one from the roadside and got penalised 20 seconds. But the Monachil and Sierra Nevada climb is more than 50 kilometres and if you are doing an average speed of say, 18km/h, that is more than two hours that you are going uphill. There is only so much water you can carry with you."
Evans and his team will try to exploit any opportunities that arise on the three stages that follow today's leg. Tomorrow's race to Avila is constantly up and down and includes first, second and third category climbs.
Friday's stage to La Granja Real Fábrica de Crystales features a third category climb early on and then three category one mountains, including two ascents of the 1870 metre Navacerrada. The final summit is followed by a fast 18 kilometre descent to the finish, potentially enabling riders clear at the top to stay out front until the end.
Saturday's stage then sees the riders settle the general classification battle with a mano-a-mano in the 27.8 kilometre Toledo time trial.
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