Cadel Evans (BMC) has admitted that he has room for improvement ahead of his defence of his Tour de France title after he was soundly defeated by Bradley Wiggins (Sky) in the stage 4 time trial at the Critérium du Dauphiné on Thursday.
Evans struggled to find his rhythm on the long, flat road from Villié-Morgon to Bourg-en-Bresse, and he ultimately conceded 1:44 to Wiggins over the 53 kilometres. Indeed, at one point, it appeared as though Wiggins might even catch the Australian for two minutes, but Evans battled resolutely to hold off his pursuer.
Rolling to a halt outside the BMC camper van, Evans set about warming down on his regular road machine, pausing briefly to down a can of Aquarius. His manager John Lelangue quickly swooped in to stand in front of him, protecting him from the assembled autograph hunters and journalists, but also perhaps also guarding him from the doubts his performance might have aroused.
In low voices, the pair discussed the day’s events, and Lelangue’s words perhaps had the desired effect – Evans’ tired grimace had creased slowly into a wan smile by the time he wearily clambered aboard the camper. After a long shower, he re-emerged to talk reporters through his afternoon.
“I’m not happy with how I rode compared to the specialists,” Evans admitted. “It was a route that was very well suited to the specialists like Martin and Wiggins, but I expected a little more from myself.”
The statistics show that Evans’ time trial unravelled in the middle section of the course. At the first time check after 18km, he was just 6 seconds behind Wiggins, but that gap stretched out to 1:37 over the following 22 kilometres. In the finale, Evans was once again able to limit his losses.
“From the first time check to the second time check, I seemed to lose some strength,” he said. “I want to understand why, first of all, and then look to see how it goes in comparison to the mountains and so on. I still have some improvement to make towards the Tour, and I have to make some improvement towards the Tour if I want to win the Tour.”
Evans noted that the wind and the sensation that the course was simply one, long road to nowhere contributed to make it one of the less predictable time trials of his career. “It was a strange time trial. It’s not often that you have a road in Europe that’s so long and straight,” he laughed. “So sometimes in your head you’re riding at 50kph and then you look up and it seems like you haven’t gone anywhere.”
With a 52-kilometre time trial to Chartres awaiting the pretenders for the maillot jaune on the final weekend of the Tour de France, stage four of the Dauphiné was billed in certain quarters as something of a dress rehearsal.
“I don’t know exactly how the final time trial is but obviously it’s flat and long. It’s a similar test,” Evans said. “I certainly hope not to lose a minute in the Tour de France. I have some improvements to make there.”
However, as Wiggins would later stress in his own winner’s press conference, Evans ceded similar ground in the Dauphiné’s Grenoble time trial last year (he lost 1:09 to Wiggins and 1:20 to Tony Martin over 42.5km), yet by the time he tackled the same course on the final weekend of the Tour, he was just 7 seconds shy of Martin.
“I saw today that like last year, I’m a little bit behind the [time trial] specialists but not bad in the mountains,” Evans said. “I still have some room and some time to improve – and it’s necessary to improve.”