For the second successive day, the combination of a sharp climb and testing descent just before the finish wreaked havoc on the group of overall favourites, but Cadel Evans (BMC) again emerged unscathed to move closer to Thomas Voeckler’s (Europcar) overall lead on stage 17 of the Tour de France.
While Evans was unable to gain time on all his rivals as he had done at Gap on Tuesday, he held his nerve in a white-knuckle finale to close a gap to Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-SunGard) and peg back another 27 seconds of his deficit to Voeckler.
“It was a bit different today, more corners, and it was dryer and all shadowy,” Evans said afterwards, labelling the technical downhill section as “sketchy.”
Contador had attacked twice on the ascent of the second category Pramartino, but was unable to break free of the yellow jersey group. He tried again shortly after cresting the summit and soon opened up a lead in the company of his compatriot Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi).
“They went right over the top,” Evans said. “Andy [Schleck] led over the KoM and then I think Voeckler put in the first attack, and Contador went.”
Evans pointed out that he was unable to close the gap immediately as he was on Andy Schleck’s wheel.
“They sort of just had a gap and I got caught behind Andy and I just couldn’t get around him,” he said.
On a treacherous descent that saw breakaway rider Jonathan Hivert (Saur-Sojasun) and the yellow jersey Voeckler each overshoot the same bend, Evans was loathe to take any risks. Instead, he opted to bide his time until the road flattened out in the final kilometre.
“With the shadows and stuff it was real hard to see,” Evans admitted. “I certainly didn’t want to take any risks, but there was a little bit of leeway in the bottom and we had the numbers. Voeckler ran off the road twice I think in front of me. It makes you take things a bit more cautiously.
“I saw him going off the road. It doesn’t inspire you to go cutting underneath and taking risks just to get across.”
Inside the final kilometre, a group containing Evans, Andy and Fränk Schleck and Damiano Cunego (Lampre-ISD) bridged across to Contador and Sanchez.
“They had a bit of gap and that was kind of opened up a bit by the guys behind,” Evans said. “Then we closed it on the flat. It was a bit confusing with people going and crashing and coming back.”
With two summit finishes and a time trial still to come, Evans has ample opportunity to make up his 1:18 deficit on Voeckler’s yellow jersey. The Australian also has 1:57 in hand over Alberto Contador, and, that pair increasingly appear to be the men most likely to overhaul Voeckler.
“I’ve got a good advantage over Alberto now, but who knows,” Evans said. “Alberto’s shown in years gone by what he can do when he’s really at his top, top. The more time [gained on Contador] the better. Ultimately you want to get into the last time trial with about five or ten minutes and then you’re set, but unfortunately I don’t think that’s going to happen.”