Cadel Evans has insisted that he is pleased with the climbing talent added to his BMC team ahead of the 2012 season. The Australian dismissed the notion that in stock-piling its arsenal of classics talent in the off-season, BMC had neglected to bolster his support for the Tour de France.
Thor Hushovd and Philippe Gilbert may have been the squad's most high-profile signings, but Evans believes that while both men can play an important role at the Tour, it is Tejay van Garderen and Steve Cummings that have arrived at BMC expressly to flank him in the mountains.
"For me the climbing aspect of our team is great," Evans told reporters at the BMC training camp in Denia, Spain on Thursday. "I feel Tejay [van Garderen] is a bit of an under-rated rider at the moment. I saw him first hand when he was away on the stage to Superbesse last year and you could see what he's capable of, but every day he was riding on the front for Cavendish.
"With us, he's going to have the opportunity to ride on terrain that suits him, and he's going to have opportunities in his own races to ride for himself too, of course."
Evans acknowledged that BMC had added significant firepower to its classics squad ahead of the new campaign, but pointed out that the same riders could also be crucial to his ambitions come July.
"For the Tour de France, you also need rouleurs and strong guys," he said. "Okay, in 2012 we don't have a team time trial but you do need guys who are suited to that kind of racing because not all of the Tour de France is mountainous.
"We needed to strengthen our team for the Tour de France. To be defending champion is potentially more difficult for a team and we needed to strengthen our team."
The newly-merged RadioShack-Nissan team is widely touted to provide the most concerted collective threat at the Tour de France, but Evans wryly noted that he would be hard-pressed to replicate the make-up of that particular team.
"No team can be as good as the combination of the Schleck brothers together because they're two of the best five climbers in the world, but that's a unique combination of two brothers racing," he said, and then quipped: "I don't have a brother, so I can't do much about that."
Although Alberto Contador's participation in the 2012 Tour remains shrouded in doubt, Evans believes the Spaniard will be his principal rival if he is on the start line. Along with Schleck brothers, Evans feels that a number of strong time triallists will also fancy their chances given the nature of the route.
"With more time trialling, guys like Wiggins and Leipheimer [can be in contention] and don't discount somebody like Andreas Klöden," he warned. "In a flat time trial he can bring back time and he's been on the podium in years gone by. But whether he has the ambitions or intentions I really don't know."
Tour of Lombardy return
Unlike in 2011, when his season ended shortly after sealing victory at the Tour, Evans is motivated by the possibility of continuing as far as the Worlds in Valkenburg and the Tour of Lombardy. To that end, he is hopeful that the London Olympics might provide the necessary structure to maintain his momentum through the immediate post-Tour period.
"My post-Tour de France in 2011 was a bit of a unique situation, going back to Australia, rushing off to America and so on," he said. "I think going to the Olympics and being a little bit more planned and programmed for that period will leave me with a little bit more energy. I like the fact that Lombardy is a bit earlier as well, closer to the Worlds."
In early part of the season, Evans will understandably follow an almost identical race programme to the one that ultimately paid such rich dividends in 2011. Nonetheless, he was cautious about his chances of repeating his early Tirreno-Adriatico success of last year.
"This year I'll go to Tirreno with hopes but no big expectations," he said. "But of course July is what it's really all about and where we really start to be serious."