Cadel Evans is the current world champion and has twice finished second in the Tour de France, yet he is not mentioned as a hot favourite for overall victory alongside Alberto Contador, Andy Schleck and Lance Armstrong.
For the Australian BMC rider, it is a position he prefers. He and his new team know that just being at the start of this year's Tour de France is already a huge achievement.
The US-registered team, managed by former 7-Eleven, Motorola, US Postal and Phonak boss Jim Ochowicz, got the 22nd and final spot thanks to a wild-card invitation from Tour de France organisers ASO. “We had initially planned to ride the 2011 Tour de France but the signing of Cadel Evans made us go quicker”, team co-owner and sponsor Andy Rihs explained to Cyclingnews at a press conference.
The prologue in Rotterdam marks the return of Ivan Basso and Alexandre Vinokourov at the Tour de France after their suspensions for doping. It is also a comeback for the Swiss entrepreneur.
“As a businessman, this is my first and only failure”, he said in 2006 when he pulled the plug on his Phonak team following Floyd Landis’ positive dope test at the Tour de France. He has now changed his mind, realizing that professional cycling remains the best way to promote his BMC bicycle brand.
Evans ready for three weeks of racing
Evans admitted his surprise move to BMC after he won the world title could have meant he would not ride the Tour de France but it was a risk he was ready to take.
“It was a little bit of a risk and experiment to go to a new team with a new staff. I’ve had an alternative race program this year including the Giro, as some people saw,” he said.
Evans thinks he is physically ready to target the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France but at the age of 33, he still hasn’t won a Grand Tour. The weakness of his team at the Giro was a factor but the BMC line-up looks much stronger for the Tour de France.
“Getting to the front with George Hincapie is easy”, Evans said. “Stage three with the cobblestones is going to be nervous I’m sure and riders being nervous will make it dangerous.”
Evans was ill during the Italian race but managed to finish fifth overall. After the Italian race, he has spent time recovering and training for the Tour de France. “I took a period to recover, I went on holiday with my bike and my family”, he said.
He has now come to terms with twice finishing second in the Tour de France by less than one minute (in 2007 and 2008) and third in the Vuelta, which he lost because of a poor wheel change. He insists wearing the rainbow jersey and switching teams has made a significant difference.
“I’m a loser but I wasn’t that far off”, Evans said “But now that I’m the world champion, people look at me differently but I have the same house, the same coach, the same training. Most of the steps in my life are still the same but with this rainbow jersey, even your colleagues look at you in different lights. This title turned the tables on a lot of things after a difficult and stressful year.”
Evans seems more relaxed and prefers not being favourite this time around. He knows what lies ahead in the three intense weeks of the Tour de France.
“I’m here to get the best result possible. I’ve been second twice. One step higher would be the best. I have the highest expectation of myself. I hope the homework and preparation pay off in the next three weeks. It’ll be a question of not losing in the first week and winning in the third week. But nearly every day is filled with obstacles.”