By Daniel Benson and Gregor Brown in Alpe d'Huez
Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) may not have stamped his authority on Wednesday's stage 17 and in fact, he may have moved further away from an overall victory. However his Team Manager Marc Sergeant still believes that Evans is the number one favourite for the final yellow jersey in Paris despite the onslaught from Team CSC-Saxo Bank and the time lost to stage winner and new maillot jaune Carlos Sastre.
Evans and his Belgian team leader were willing to admit that Team CSC was not only the strongest team, but that it had played a strong tactical hand in the final mountain test.
"I think tactically it was the best thing they could have done to put Sastre away," Evans said. "The most dangerous thing was for Sastre to be clear, it would have been worse if he was away with Andy Schleck. All things considered, it was only Sastre who could get away from us and when they have such strength in numbers it is always three against one for me."
Despite some early work from Mario Aerts, Evans was isolated against the three CSC riders, who also put the fear into the rest of the favourites. "They all sat on," Evans said of the final climb. "It was a headwind, and the headwind probably worked in my advantage yesterday, but today they could obviously sit on the wheel and recover.
"You know, I can ride but I also have to be able to cover attacks in the last kilometres. It is not easy to do to close the gap of two minutes with ten of the best bike riders on your wheel and ready to attack. It is a difficult situation."
"Most of Cadel's rivals did nothing today," said Sergeant, "but the big winner is Carlos Sastre as he has 1'34" on Cadel now," he said. With four stages still to go, though, he was adamant that the race was far from over; even pointing to the next two stages as possible places to gain or lose time.
"There are two more difficult stages to come. I think we'll see more attacking before the time trial, for sure. A lot of riders will still want to win stages but the overall contenders will still be very nervous."
It is likely that the general classification will be the same heading into Saturday's 53-kilometre time trial, setting up a bit of a déjà vu for Evans. Last year, he began the final time trial 1'50" down on Alberto Contador, and put in a brilliant effort but still fell 23 seconds short of taking the overall victory. That same day, one Carlos Sastre was 2'33" slower than Evans on a 55.5 kilometre course.
Seargeant still backed his man as the favourite to win. "I still think that Cadel will win, but I don't think you can underestimate Carlos Sastre. He can be very strong, but we have a good chance if it stays at 1'34."
Evans was a bit more reserved in his reply. "1'34" behind for time trial? Yeah, it is not so bad, but I would rather be five minutes in front," he said with a worried look on his face.
One thing is for certain and that is that nothing is yet certain in the quest for the yellow jersey.
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