As speculation mounts over the future of Cadel Evans, the Australian is maintaining perspective on a disappointing Tour de France campaign and anticipating challenges that lay ahead in 2009. Rumours abound that he could buy out his contract with Silence-Lotto and move to another squad for 2010.
Evans, runner up in the Tour in 2007 and '08, played down those claims in an interview with Fox Sports' Scott McGrory. "Rumours are just that - rumours. Actions speak louder than words. Let's see. There's another week and another month and there are plenty more races this year," said Evans following his ride in yesterday's Annecy time trial.
"One thing after another here [in the Tour] meant that my chances on the classification and making the podium are finished and that's the way it goes. There's no use making a fuss about it now. There's the world championships, [Giro di] Lombardia... next week there's another race. For the Tour though, it's not going to be my year, that's for sure."
The strong performances of Jurgen Van Den Broeck have some observers asking whether Evans will maintain his place as team leader for 2010. Recent comments from team sponsor Omega Pharma CEO Marc Coucke could be fuel for speculation, although Evans himself has said nothing that may lead to that conclusion.
"We don't want to get rid of Cadel, I can assure you this. But this is the last time Cadel will be the only leader in this team. Next year if Cadel is on the team Van Den Broeck will be at the same level; co-leader, if not above him," Coucke told ozcycling.com.
Coucke added that he's not going to hastily judge the Australian on one bad week in the Tour after the achievements of four years in the world's biggest race, where he has acquitted himself well and given the team a new level of exposure. "We could not have got to where we are without him. And we got him to a level that he wouldn't have achieved without us. So the two [parties] were happy," he said.
"For next year we have a contract. But we are always very happy with Cadel. We are not going to judge Cadel on one bad year... [But] If there wasn't Jurgen this year, I don't know if we would have accepted it."
It's undeniable that the young Belgian has outshone his older teammate during the mountain stages, although Coucke gives Evans credit for his role in helping him improve, despite the disappointments. "What has happened with Jurgen Van Den Broeck is also thanks to Cadel, because he taught us the details of preparation, diet, what is necessary to do in winter. We should accept that Cadel had a year 'sans' [without]. It is very frustrating for him. It's very frustrating for us."
Criticised for several incidents during last year's Tour, Evans is a different character in 2009 given that the pressure is off and he can recalibrate his aim for targets later in the season. In the meantime, he is maintaining perspective on life at the back of the peloton, sharing the lighter side of riding in the grupetto with reporters.
"Normally, when I ride the Tour de France - particularly in the last few years - I say, it takes 3,500 kilometres to win the Tour but only a metre to lose it, as the crash last year showed. You have to be careful about so many things - positioning, traffic islands, spectators, dogs... whatever. You have to be careful.
"You sit back in the grupetto - you're not going so fast, you're not going flat out all the time, you're not fighting for position, you're not watching where all the other GC guys are - you can sit and talk to your competitors and they ride so slow up the climbs that the fit Aussie fans can run alongside and talk [to you]," he explained.