Defending Tour de France champion, Cadel Evans (BMC) is the first to admit that leading rival Bradley Wiggins (Sky) has had the better run of form but remains confident that he can once again stand on the top of the podium on the Champs-Élysées in July.
Evans will lead a BMC outfit to the Tour de France which has been bolstered by potent off-season signings Philippe Gilbert and Tejay van Garderen, along with the experienced Stephen Cummings, off the back of his third-place performance at the Critérium du Dauphiné. It’s been acknowledged from the release of the 2012 parcours, generous in time trials, that the 35-year-old Australian should find himself in his element for this 99th edition of the Tour.
"The only thing that has changed mainly has been the level that Team Sky has come to," Evans explained of the time between October when the route was revealed, and the present. Evans was speaking to journalists from his home country over conference call from a low-key and relaxed setting of a teammate’s house where he is currently working through his final preparation for the French Grand Tour. His young son Robel playing in the background Evans was at ease, despite the difficulty communicating throughout the call, saying that he felt he was in much the same space mentally as he was at this time last year.
Overall victories at Paris-Nice, the Tour de Romandie and the Critérium du Dauphiné have ensured that the spotlight has shone brightly on Wiggins while Evans has had a comparatively quiet lead-in with the Critérium International his only GC win for the season to date. And Evans is okay with that.
"The main thing for most riders is just getting to a good level, a level you know you need to be at to race - avoiding injuries, health issues and so on," he said of his preparation. "This year it's been a good progression for me into the Tour and in some ways, not having some race results, it keeps people's attention away from me. That also helps make life a little bit easier."
While Wiggins has been in the spotlight, Evans suggested that there were others who will be starting in Liège on June 30 deserving on general classification consideration. The 38km, Stage 9 individual time trial and another on the penultimate stage could play into the favour of the likes of Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma – QuickStep) or Andreas Klöden (RadioShack – Nissan) who will have several more seasons of grand tour experience under their belt in comparison to the Brit. Samuel Sanchez, Denis Menchov, and Frank Schleck, "if he can get some time," also rated a mention as possibilities for overall contention from Evans. Then there was Alejandro Valverde, "but his performance at the Tour de Suisse wasn’t convincing," Evans said.
Sky’s performance at the Dauphiné was a dominant one, but if there was cause for concern particularly due to their strength in numbers when it came to the Joux Plane on Stage 6 with Michael Rogers, Chris Froome and Richie Porte protecting Wiggins, Evans wasn’t giving anything away.
"At this point if they hold that level, yeah, they’ll have the numbers when it comes down to 20 guys but let’s see what happens with it comes down to five or 10," he said with the more selective climbs of the Tour in mind.
Evans undertook reconnaissance of the Tour’s tougher stages in May and believes that the sage profiles don’t tell the whole story.
"There's a little bit more than it shows on paper, there are a few surprises along the way," he explained. "The Tour organisers seem to have liked adding these in over the last few years - when we get to them, we'll see."