By Brecht Decaluwé in Brest, France
On Thursday morning the Silence-Lotto team of hot favourite Cadel Evans was woken up by a visit from the French 'vampires'. After the blood tests the team rolled out for a short training ride and Cyclingnews grabbed a few moments with the team's leader just before he hit the road. With several camera crews in the hotel car park it seemed like the Tour had already started for the Australian. "Until this morning we had quite a relaxed Tour," Evans joked. "No, now there's not too much stress, for two more days."
In contrast to previous years, the Tour de France doesn't start with a prologue, and so riders will not be separated during the road stages in the first week, a change welcomed by Evans. "First when I heard there was no prologue I thought 'good, less stress for us', as prologues are a lot of warming up and a lot of preparation for a short distance. I think without the time differences from the prologue we're going to see a lot close times.
"It's going to encourage much more aggressive racing, more attacking racing. Hopefully it will mean more work for the sprinters' teams – Team High Road for example – but also more nervous racing. We don't want to spend a lot of energy and I don't want to ask the guys to work unnecessarily during the first week. Personally, I hope to be good in that nervous first week, but I should be at my top from the second week onwards."
One thing Evans isn't looking forward to, however, is the narrow, winding Breton roads. "It will be constantly turning left and right on those small roads, and the wind will play a role as well, but it's always like that I guess," he said.
The former mountain biker has been criticised in past Tours for his passive style of racing, but insisted winning stages is not something he's afraid to do. "People think I sit on and run second because I like to, but that's not the case at all," laughed Evans, adding that the absence of any time bonuses will change how the favourites contest stage finishes. "No time bonuses for sure will change the way the race will be ridden in a positive way, from your point of view," Evans smiled, " and nervous from our point of view."
In the absence of defending champion Alberto Contador, Evans sees 2007 Vuelta winner Denis Menchov as the rider to watch this year. "I'm interested to see Menchov," he said. "I think he's one who's been quietly building up to riding a good race over here. Cunego, the Schleck brothers are very interesting riders, and of course Valverde; if he's in the form he was at the Dauphiné he'll be a force to be reckoned with."
On paper, Evans' Silence-Lotto squad doesn't have the strength of several other big teams, but the Australian hopes his men can ride a smart race, saving their legs for when it matters most. "This year we have a much more focused, motivated and concentrated team. I asked all riders to concentrate 100 percent on the Tour. It's true that we're not the strongest team of the Tour, but maybe we are the most intelligent team.
"There's one major change as [Chris] Horner has been replaced by [Yaroslav] Popovych. I'm really happy to have him in the team. He might be the difference between winning and losing the Tour at end of the month; he's a very key part of the team."
Evans shares a room with Belgian Mario Aerts, who's known to be a quiet buddy. "He's good. A perfect room-mate. All I ask from a room-mate is that he's quiet and goes to bed early," Evans laughed. It seems like Silence-Lotto have tried hard to please Evans this year – there's a team cook with his own kitchen in a special truck, and even a bodyguard. "I asked for a chef because that is very important I think. I didn't ask for the bodyguard, that's something the team wanted to have. I asked for the small things, not the big things... I hope to do the big things on the bike."
Serge is back!
The Silence-Lotto team has a new bodyguard specially for its Australian general classification rider to protect him from unwanted media attention. Serge Borlée, who worked for Lance Armstrong and Alexandre Vinokourov in the past, didn't walk out with Evans this morning. "That's nothing compared to what it will be," smiled the former Belgian policeman. "If things go right then it will be completely different, and I don't think Cadel has an idea of what it will become, or at least what it should become."