By Jean-François Quénet in Amilly
Cadel Evans – second in the 2007 Tour de France – clocked the 36th best time in the Paris-Nice prologue, the 4.6-kilometre wet and slippery run for which he chose to avoid any risk.
"I came here firstly for preparation for further races and secondly to test myself," he explained prior to the 'Race to the Sun.' "It will also be good to see how the team is going in the top level competition."
Silence-Lotto attracted Yaroslav Popovych from Discovery Channel in support of the Australian at the Tour de France, for which last year's runner-up can reasonably target the win in the absence of Astana's Alberto Contador and Levi Leipheimer, who accompanied him on the podium in 2007. The core of the Belgian ProTour team for the July campaign is already in action together on the roads of Paris-Nice with Dario Cioni, Mario Aerts and Johan Van Summeren, who already backed Evans when he scored his first win of the year at the Ruta del Sol last month.
"This year with the Tour and my requests in mind, we are keeping the core Tour guys together," Evans explained. "It certainly doesn't hurt winning early in the season. I see my win in Spain as a confirmation of the good work that the team and I have done so far."
He didn't worry himself much about the time lost during the prologue because he knows the classification will be decided later on with the Mont Ventoux coming up on Thursday. "Everything depends on how cold it will be at the top and how quickly I can ride up it!
"Paris-Nice is a race I like a lot," he added. Three years ago, he finished eighth, just 58 seconds behind eventual winner Bobby Julich; the win might have been in his grasp had he not lost exactly 58 seconds because of a split in the bunch at the end of stage one. With the Mont Ventoux and a lot of other climbs, Evans is a clear favourite for Paris-Nice this year. "But being so early in the season I don't like to focus on it too much," he stated. "I'd like to think that I will be a good helper to Popovych."
That's how the roles are spread inside the Silence-Lotto team: in March, Evans is supposed to help the Ukrainian, who has also proven to be a good rider for Paris-Nice when he won the stage to Manosque in an impressive manner last year. Since there's no extra pressure right now in the Belgian squad, Popovych, who rode the prologue on wet roads, took even less risks than Evans and scored the 93rd best time 29 seconds slower than Thor Hushovd.
Evans reckons he might be at 75 percent of his best condition right now. "Ask me again after the stage up the Ventoux," he said. So this is really a pre-Tour de France test for him. Even without pressure he might give it a go. The past two winners of Paris-Nice, Floyd Landis and Alberto Contador have finished in yellow on the Champs-Élysées after that... with different fortunes later on.
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