By Brecht Decaluwé in Tignes
With Cadel Evans in sixth position after the first mountain stage and their stage win in Canterbury courtesy of Robbie McEwen, the Predictor-Lotto team were happy to talk to the press during the first rest day. Despite green jersey contender McEwen being forced to abandon the race, the team was upbeat about their chances for GC success with Cadel Evans.
The Australian was quickly asked why he didn't attack during Sunday's stage. "We're all close on GC and because of that the racing might look less exciting," was Evans' response, a strange response considering the Tour de France has not been more open in a decade. "With US Postal you knew that when Popo [Yaroslav Popovych - ed.] pulled off there would only be ten guys left behind him and for sure you knew who was the strongest," Evans said.
French champion Christophe Moreau made sure that the French crowds would all be behind him from now on as he started attacking the race right from the foot of the ultimate climb. "I'm glad he did it, otherwise they would come back on us. Obviously, we wouldn't work with him as he was clearly the strongest," Evans commented. "For sure the strongest riders attacked yesterday but on the other hand less strong riders could hang on in a group as the headwind benefited them."
Some media are continuously trying to lure the Australian to ride a more attacking style and make some daring quotes, but insiders know that this isn't the style of Cadel Evans. "Moreau was so strong that I couldn't attack but when the opportunity is there I will try," Evans said, perhaps trying to keep the press happy. Cyclingnews asked him why he would attack since he can take time on the pure climbers in the time trials. "It's true that my strength lies in my consistency. Some guys are better in the mountains but when there's an action there's also a reaction, so they have their weaknesses," Evans explained.
Last year Cadel Evans was also in a good position to battle for the Tour de France podium and he was asked if he had changed since then. "I'm more used to it, I don't get distressed that much anymore when we're in a traffic jam when returning from Le Grand-Bornand," Evans laughed. "Up until now I haven't suffered that much in the mountains this year so I'm happy. That's because I'm totally focused on the Tour de France I guess. During previous years my season was: being good in April and being good in July, hoping to be in form twice. This year my goal is to do better than last year's fifth place and if I wanted to do so then I had to gear everything up for the Tour de France."
This year together with his personal coach Roberto Damiani, the Australian worked out a schedule that would see him ready for the Tour and as a part of that there was also a reconnaissance of the main climbs. "We've seen most mountains stages," Evans said. When asked if he copied the approach invented by Armstrong, by riding all the main stages beforehand, Evans responded: "Back since I was a young MTB'er I have been pre-riding the races, so I wouldn't say that Armstrong invented it, he might have refined it."
The arrival of Damiani in the Predictor Lotto team was requested by Evans himself who had worked with Italian when he started his road career with the Mapei team. Evans was more than happy with Damiani joining the team as during his contract negotiations the management mentioned the possibility of hiring a specific directeur sportif with stage race experience.
"The Belgian directors certainly aren’t bad but they are specialists for the classics. Damiani and I have the same work ethics so we'll be fine," Evans said to Cyclingnews earlier this year. Combining the better coaching there's also the technical improvement. "Our bike manufacturer Ridley really got behind us. They asked me if I wanted to have the best time trial bike of the world. Of course I'm happy to hear that. I hope the team benefits from all the wind tunnel tests we did in Brussels. Gaining minutes at the Tour de France can make a huge difference."
With Rasmussen in the yellow jersey it seems like the moment to attack him will be in the time trials, a discipline where Evans should be able to take a lot of time back on the Chicken. "I'm glad we did some work on the time trial this year with the team as I think it will be decided there," Evans said. "Looking at the past of Rasmussen I'm not really afraid of him, that's in contrast to Menchov who has proven to be the more consistent rider of the Rabobank team."
When Robbie McEwen arrived at the finish past the time cut on Sunday Evans lost his only compatriot in Predictor Lotto's Tour de France selection. As a result the team is now completely at his disposal. "It's unfortunate that Robbie had to leave the race but when we turn this negative point into something positive it's true that everybody is working for me now."
Evans expressed his satisfaction with the team's commitment during the first week and picked one rider out for special praise. "Wim Vansevenant has been most impressive so far. The cameras are not often there when he does his work but when you expect him to be dropped he's there again to pull," Evans said of the current lantern rouge of this year's Tour de France.
Last year Vansevenant was in the same spot in Paris and earlier in the Tour the Belgian expressed that he wouldn't mind finishing there again. When asked if there would be a Predictor Lotto rider in first and last position in Paris the Australian laughed the question away. "I think there's not a lot of money to win if you bet on him finishing as last rider," Evans laughed.
After the press conference team manager Marc Sergeant talked with Cyclingnews about the team's tactics for the two upcoming weeks. "We're not hiding that we don't have the team to defend the yellow jersey. So if Evans can grab the yellow jersey in Cognac that would be the ideal scenario for us."