Cadel Evans (BMC) happily stopped to sign autographs before the start of stage seven of the Tour de France to Albi, apparently relaxed and confident before the race heads into the Pyrenees for the first real showdown between the contenders for overall victory.
The 2011 Tour de France winner can count on the support of teammate Tejay van Garderen, with the young American also a real contender this year after his impressive ride in 2012, when he finished fifth overall and won the best young rider's white jersey.
Evans is lying 22nd overall, 31 seconds behind Daryl Impey (Orica GreenEdge). He is 23 seconds behind major rival Chris Froome (Sky), with Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) 17 seconds ahead of him. Van Garderen is two places behind Evans, also at 31 seconds.
Evans lost those precious seconds because BMC finished an unexpected ninth in the team time trial. That has been the veteran Australian's only disappointment of the first week of this year's Tour de France.
"I am disappointed to be so far back on time already from the team time trial. That was a bit of a blow," Evans said.
"Team Sky is a bit quieter this year in the first week, but of course we will see in the Pyrenees how quiet they really are…"
"For the most part, the GC riders are riding really conservatively, not really trying to get into the breakaways, which means that the start (of the Tour) hasn't been as difficult as they have been in past years. I can't explain that. Maybe the guys that normally go in breakaways know how hard the second and third weeks will be."
Evans, like many of his rivals, expects Saturday's first mountain finish to Ax 3 Domaines to shake up the overall classification and show who really is a challenger in 2013. Sunday's stage to Bagneres-de-Bigorre includes five classified climbs but ends with a 30km descent to the finish.
"I think the time differences are more likely to be up Ax 3 Domaines, where as there will be a downhill finish to Bagneres de Bigorre," he pointed out.
"With a long downhill, it's a bit hard to make a selection because you really have to make such a big difference. The first hilltop finish is more important. It's also tactical. Everyone is looking at each other and getting an idea of how they are going compared to their rivals."
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