Cadel Evans (BMC) may have lost the battle atop the Mont des Alouettes at the end of the stage one of the Tour de France, but he declared himself pleased with his opening salvos in the war for the yellow jersey in Paris.
Hemmed in at the right-hand side of the road when Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) launched his winning move with 700 metres to go, Evans was unable to respond to the Belgian's move immediately. Once Evans managed to free himself, he ripped clear of the peloton but was still three seconds down on the rampant Gilbert at the line.
"First would have been better, but second was not too bad. It was a good start, a pleasant surprise," he said after stage 1.
In front of the BMC bus beyond the finish line, an upbeat Evans talked a cluster of reporters through the stage's frantic finale. There was great uncertainty ahead of the stage as to the true difficulty of the final climb to the finish, and Evans revealed that the wind had led him to play his cards conservatively in the final kilometre.
"I was well positioned and I had a chance to go early but I thought it might have been too early as there was a bit of wind today and I got a bit closed in," Evans said.
The blue touch paper was lit with 900 metres to go, but Evans was unable to find the space to respond immediately. For his part, Gilbert was present and correct, and countered when Fabian Cancellara (Leopard Trek) got a gap on the climb.
"Gilbert went across to him and then hit him again and by the time it opened up and I went, Gilbert had already got a good gap," Evans said. "I was closing in at the finish but by then he had it pretty much run and won, so there wasn't much I could do there. But then you never know what could have happened in the last 100 metres."
Although the stage victory eluded Evans, his Tour is built around longer-term goals, and his morale will have received a considerable boost from the time he gained over Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-SunGard). The Spaniard came in 1:20 down after being caught behind a crash in the closing stages, Evans could scarcely hide his delight with the unexpected bonus received on the race's opening day.
While Leopard Trek's management sought to downplay the significance of the advantage their man Andy Schleck now carries over Contador, Evans could speak from bitter experience of the value of seconds won and lost on the Tour's seemingly less vital junctures, after losing out on the 2007 and 2008 races by less than a minute on each occasion.
When asked if the 1:17 buffer over Contador would be important come Paris, Evans smiled ruefully. "I think so. You're talking to a guy who lost the Tour de France by 23 seconds."