By Daniel Benson in Saint Amand Montrond
Evans or Sastre? That was the question on everyone's lips before Saturday's stage. Yet as the dust settled on a race-defining day at the Tour, the answer was clear. Carlos Sastre pulled off the time trial of his life, losing just 29 second to Cadel Evans over a 53-kilometre course from Cerilly to St Amand-Montrond. Tomorrow Sastre will wear yellow into Paris, becoming the seventh Spanish rider to win the race, with a lead of 1'05 over Evans.
Sporting in defeat and with the support of his wife and mother at the finish, 31 year-old Evans gave an honest assessment on finishing runner-up for the second year in succession. "No I'm not devastated, but I am very disappointed. I felt I rode a good time trial. I started well and got a time check from my car after 6 kilometres and I was similar to Cancellara. For me that is a good start.
"In the second half I started getting checks to the other riders and I thought what's going on here? I started really putting in effort and I gave it everything. I tried my best but didn't quite deliver in the end. I need some time to have a little look and analysis of the time checks," he said, before adding, "There were three or four there that really surprised me."
As today's race of truth unfolded Evans was only able to claw back a handful of seconds on Sastre at each of the time checks - four at the first, 23 at the second and 29 by the finish. It wasn't enough. It wasn't even as close as some experts had predicted.
Throughout this year's race Evans has constantly found himself without any team-mates at critical points and on many occasions has been forced to chase a multitude of riders - mainly from CSC - all on his own. With a stronger team, perhaps he'd have had the strength needed today. "I would have liked some more support in the high mountains. At least one team member to ride with me and help at the tough-end of a climbing stage. I would also have expected a bit more help from some other key riders when the pressure was on in the big climbs," he said.
So after such a long and draining Tour, Evans could only manage seventh place on the stage. "But I've got to be happy that I finished the race," he countered. "I'm still a bit sore and aching in places. After that crash I was lucky to be able to finish the stage. When I look back, I have to be happy with my Tour."
Of course this year's race hasn't been without its highlights for the out-gunned Australian. "To get the yellow jersey and defend it against the best, well I have to be pleased with that," he said pointing to the five days he held the lead before relinquishing it to Fränk Schleck.
So it's on to 2009 and next year Evans will almost certainly find himself riding up against 2007 Tour de France winner Alberto Contador, as well the likelihood of another strong CSC team. Having set himself four years to win the race back in 2007, he still has time on his side to reach what for him would be the ultimate goal. "Well, I have been making good progression there - eighth then fourth and on to second. But also as I said last year, I think from second to first is the hardest step to take."
But when looking at next year, perhaps it's Evans's mother that comes up with the best assessment of his chances. "It is a race and anything can happen. Why would you say anyone could win, it's not an absolute. But he certainly has the ability to."