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Cadel Evans: Searching for form, Vuelta redemption

Cadel Evans was relieved to leave Paris after July’s Tour de France. Tipped for a third consecutive podium finish leading in to this year’s race, Evans certainly failed to meet his own expectations at the Grande Boucle and now he’s looking to the Vuelta a España and World Championships in an effort to salvage something from his season.

After a super-successful Tour campaign in 2007, where he won the hearts of fans world-over as an under-dog taking on the mighty Astana, the Australian was relieved when the 2008 race edition drew to a close. Not only was he physically injured but the rider’s public support had started to turn. Riding up the Champs-Élysées provided Evans with satisfaction, knowing the poker game with Carlos Sastre he hadn’t enjoyed, was finally over.

As the peloton rolled in to Paris on July 26 this year, it was a very different type of relief being felt by a dejected Evans. He was sick. Sick of the Tour, sick of his job, sick of his environment. While he entered the race realistic of his slim chances against Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong’s Astana squad, coming 30th on general classification wasn’t an outcome he’d considered.

“Unfortunately I had to put a reflection on my performance,” Evans told Cyclingnews. “I was very disappointed with my Tour de France. I didn’t ride any [post-Tour] criteriums. I don’t think any organisers wanted me after the result I got. I went to the mountains to rest and train, work towards the Vuelta and get ready for the world championship and the Tour of Lombardy.”

As Evans started to enjoy climbing again in northern Italy’s Valtellina valley, he started reflecting on how his Tour went so horribly wrong. Away from the crowd and the pressure of the Tour, which drew additional interest this year due to Armstrong’s return, Evans was able to take stock.

“I had a few problems,” admitted Evans. “After the stage to Verbier, I was 14th on general classification. I finished seventh that day and I was hoping to get back to my normal state, but it got worse. My problem was breathing. My throat made me suffer. I wasn’t myself.”

Former winner Laurent Fignon excused Evans during the Tour’s telecast on France Television saying “the tubes inside his head had a flat tyre”. The Frenchman blamed the Silence-Lotto team for showing up at the Tour with an incredibly weak line up.

Fignon’s comments referred to the Belgian team’s poor performance in the team time trial. Evans remembers looking at the results sheets after stage four, pinpointing Montpellier as the stage that claimed his morale.

“Having lost the Tour de France on two occasions by less than one minute, I realised this time I was three minutes down only after stage four,” he said.

Evans’ disillusion had likely already peaked prior to the Grand Départ in Monaco. Just days before the Tour Evans’ team-mate Thomas Dekker was sidelined by the International Cycling Union (UCI) due to alleged doping practices at the end of 2007, revealed by analysis by the blood passport program.

Dekker was the second recruitment made by Silence-Lotto management to strengthen Evans’ Tour hopes that ended in doping controversies, following the Bernhard Kohl fiasco in 2008. Team boss Marc Sergeant has been either unlucky or unaware of who the riders he’s signed really are.

Sergeant can be reproached for taking some risks, but it appears that Evans himself isn’t the kind of captain that attracts the best domestiques. He’s still a former mountain biker who switched from an individual sport to the team environment of road cycling.

Evans mentioned that there were “things that couldn’t be discussed” with the Silence-Lotto squad during the Tour. One month on nothing has changed. Evans and Sergeant met last week with general manager Gert Coeman, but it seems like Evans and team management are yet to rekindle the love for one another they once shared.

“I’d like to sit down with Marc Coucke [the president of Omegapharma and real boss of the Silence-Lotto team - Ed],” Evans said. “It still hasn’t happened. I find it a little un-cool at this stage.”

Evans is contracted to the Belgian outfit through 2010, but he’s been rumoured to be willing to change team. As was the case during the Tour when his team was under fire, Evans still won’t comment on a possible move.

Not including the Giro d’Italia in his 2009 program was perhaps one of Evans’ biggest mistakes this season, given that the Giro’s course was so compatible with his characteristics. Evans hopes to make up for that and other mistakes over the closing months of the season, with the rider out to reinstate his status as one of the world’s best professional cyclists.

“Originally my plan was to go to the Vuelta a España to prepare for the world championship, which is my home race,” said Evans, referring to his European residence in Stabio, a little Swiss town near the Italian border.

Evans’ failure at the Tour has changed his position heading to the Spanish Grand Tour. A good result would be most welcome by the Victorian. “I have finished fourth at this race, just 10 seconds off the podium,” he said, referring to the 2007 Vuelta. “Right now, I just want to get back to my normal level.

“The course of the world championship suits me well if I’m in a good condition,” added Evans. “It might not be good for the worlds if I spend too much energy during the last week of the Vuelta. I’ll see how it goes at the end of the second week to decide about my ambitions in that race.”
Despite his obvious interest in a strong performance at the world championships, to be held in Mendrisio, Switzerland, Evans denies having taken up the mentality of a one-day rider focusing exclusively on the world championship.

“I absolutely hope to be there and I want to be at my best that day,” he said. “But it’s a one-day race where anything can happen. The course is hard enough to get away alone, but I expect a small group to be there at the finish. It’s kind of a Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

“My favourites are Andy Schleck and Samuel Sanchez,” he added. “I’d put [Damiano] Cunego just behind them on my list.”

While the world championship and Tour of Lombardy are among Evans’ goals for the remainder of 2009, he’s not putting all his eggs in one basket. It’s an approach that could prove fruitful for Evans following his Tour campaign.

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