After victory in stage one on Monday, BMC's Cadel Evans has proved his sharpness at the Critérium du Dauphiné ahead of the start of the Tour de France at the end of the month. The Australian, who finally broke his duck in the Tour de France last year, is aiming to become the first man to retain the Tour crown since 2005.
His performances in the Dauphiné so far have given him much encouragement and he currently lies in second place overall, just one second behind Bradley Wiggins, who he has identified as his main threat for the Tour. Evans is also the holder of the green jersey for the overall points classification.
"He [Wiggins] is my main opponent," Evans told Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad. "He stands to have a good year in the Tour and also there are the Olympics in London."
Evans revealed that while he still has some final fine-tuning to do before the Tour gets underway in the Belgian city of Liege on 30 June, he feels that he is in better shape both mentally and physically. After so often being the bridesmaid at the Tour, where he had a couple of second place finishes (2007 and 2008) and a number of hard luck stories, winning last year at the age of 34 has given him serenity and lifted some of the pressure from his shoulders.
"I feel good but I have to be even better," he said. "This level is not quite adequate enough for a second Tour victory. But I do feel fresher both mentally and physically than I did 12 months ago. In the past I have struggled with doubts as to how I could actually win the Tour. Now I know the answer: with a great team and no bad luck. We proved at BMC last year that months of hard work can really pay off."
In terms of his rivals aside from Wiggins, Evans identified last year's runner-up Andy Schleck, who has struggled for form at new team RadioShack-Nissan this year, and also mentioned Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol). The Belgian has form in all the grand tours, boasting top ten finishes in each one - and Evans says that his preparations this year mirror his own.
"Andy Schleck? I read the articles in the media but I take them all with a pinch of salt. He only focusses on Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Tour de France. I also note that Jurgen Van Den Broeck is copying my preparations for the Tour. Whenever I train I see him on the same roads. But he is not alone. It seems to me like all the riders mimic each other in the build up to the Tour. The 100km of time trials will certainly not disadvantage him. But none of the contenders will let him take time out of them so easily as he did in 2009."