By Brecht Decaluwé in Angoulême
The Belgian Predictor-Lotto team didn't quite know how to react to the close-but-no-cigar finish of Cadel Evans after the stage 19 time trial. Despite watching Evans missing out on the yellow jersey by seconds, the team's manager Marc Sergeant realised he should be happy. "It's fantastic for our team. I said before the Tour start that the podium was possible and people had doubts but we did it," Sergeant said to Cyclingnews. There must be mixed feelings after watching one's rider come so close to glory. "Yes and no," Sergeant admitted, "If you're on the podium you should be happy. He took a lot of time back on Contador but on the other hand Leipheimer was coming up."
The Belgian was proud of the work the team did to support the Australian rider throughout the Tour. "We worked well on every level with the riders, staff and that in a Grand Tour. It's not easy to motivate the guys to work for someone else every day from start to finish." With Roberto Damiani, the team has attracted a directeur sportif that could help Evans with the specific training needed to hone his time trialing skills, and to attract riders who can support him on the last climb of a mountains stage.
Evans did wind up being isolated on the final climbs in this year's Tour. "We've seen [Chris] Horner hang on in the climbs but when he was dropped, the others had one other guy who could take over. However those guys tend to be very expensive," Sergeant smiled. That money should come from sponsor Marc Coucke but Sergeant warned that it was already a major effort from the sponsor to keep Evans in the team.
Evans was a relative bargain when he joined the Belgian team after his unsuccessful time with T-Mobile. "He had a confidence under zero and we brought him to become someone who was so relaxed during the Tour. That will strengthen him in the confidence that he can do it. But we have to be honest and realize his not getting younger," Sergeant said. Besides not getting younger Evans is also not getting cheaper Sergeant confirmed. "He has not become cheaper," Sergeant laughed. "You can't call him cheap and today he takes a very big bonus - but he deserves it if you can pull of something like that."
Marc Coucke, the Belgian sponsor from Evans' team happy to watch his team leader take one more step toward the podium in Paris, nevertheless he knew Evans was close to the overall win. "I'm very proud on our team. As a small Belgian team we stood tall and now we will curse while celebrate," Coucke said to Sporza. "In the Tour of Flanders we finished second by a couple of centimetres [Hoste behind Ballan -ed.] and now we're second in the Tour de France by a couple of seconds. This is great advertising for us and later this year we'll decide if we continue our sponsorship or not."
"Every second counts, an American wrote a book about that once," Coucke smiled. "It was very strong performance from Contador to pull off something like that at his age. Maybe if the course would've been harder and with a headwind then Evans would be closer although Leipheimer was coming close as well."
Coucke didn't have any problems admitting that Contador was the strongest and he felt the podium featured the three strongest riders. "The best three riders are on the podium and in the right order. Cadel showed his a potential Tour winner although he's probably at his strongest now," Coucke said to Cyclingnews. Contador had a good companion with Rasmussen in the mountains, but it's easy to say things like that afterwards and we will not hide us behind that," Coucke said.
The talkative sponsor said that Evans wasn't nervous for his time trial. "Cadel was very relaxed at the start, even signing autographs. He had to say to me that I shouldn't be too nervous," Coucke laughed. "Evans said that it would be good or excellent, well I can say it was very good."