Evans rates Schleck and Basso as top Tour de France rivals

Cadel Evans (BMC) has nominated Andy Schleck and Ivan Basso as his biggest rivals at July’s Tour de France. The Australian also expressed his satisfaction at his first season as a BMC rider.

“Certainly Andy [Schleck] on paper will be the first guy everyone is looking at,” Evans told Cyclingnews at the BMC training camp in Denia. “Then with Ivan [Basso] back in the Tour again and not riding the Giro, Liquigas has a really good team for the three-week races as it showed at last year’s Giro.”

Like Evans, Basso also trains under the guidance of the Mapei Centre in Castellanza, Italy but there will be no quarter asked or given come July, in spite of their shared experiences and relationship with the late Aldo Sassi.

“We’re looking at the same goals and we’re using pretty much the same tools to go about them, so in the end, in some ways I suppose we’re closer,” Evans said. “But then at the same time, if I want the Tour de France, I have to beat a guy like Ivan Basso. But with everything, especially in the last 12 months or so with the Giro and Ivan and Aldo [Sassi], in other respects, I feel there’s a different rapport with Ivan than with some of my other competitors.”

The Mapei Centre’s general manager Aldo Sassi lost his battle with cancer in December and Evans is now coached by Andrea Morelli. He admitted that while his professional collaboration with the centre continues as before, on a human level he is still coming to terms with the loss of his friend.

“It’s more or less business as usual [in terms of training], but to go there now without Aldo, the air and the feeling at Mapei is unfortunately completely changed,” Evans said.

A successful first year at BMC

Evans is now facing into his second season at the BMC team and will race considerably fewer days in the first part of the year as he tapers his preparation for the Tour de France. However, he is pleased with how his busy debut season with the team turned out, and compared the experience positively to his five years in the Lotto team set-up.

“I was often forced to ride races I didn’t want to do and go for the general classification when I would have been better off training or something [at Lotto],” Evans told Cyclingnews. “But these things happen...”

At BMC, Evans has enjoyed more of an input into the composition of his race programme and he feels that both parties reaped the benefits of such a relationship in 2010.

“BMC and I have a lot of faith in each other, which goes a long way,” he said. “I think especially when you’re working for things like the Tour, when someone has 100 percent faith and trust in you and you have 100 percent faith and trust in them, it’s a lot easier to do big things and I think that’s probably the main part of it.

“We went in with small ambitions but we worked well and we came out with, in some ways, probably more than we went in with.”

The Tour de France was one of the few low points in a season in which Evans honoured the rainbow jersey with a string of strong performances, including victory at Flèche Wallone. The hairline fracture of his elbow sustained in a crash on stage 8 of the Tour would ultimately cost Evans both the yellow jersey and any hopes of a high overall finish. However, he admitted to being somewhat nonplussed by the admiration he earned for continuing in the race until Paris.

“I could continue, so I did,” he said. “I certainly had much higher ambitions than 26th on GC. That’s not a place I’m proud of finishing but it wasn’t a bad result.”

Evans refused to be drawn on where he might have finished were it not for his crash, but acknowledged that he was strongly placed when he sustained his injuries.

“I don’t know about being up there with Contador and Schleck, but I certainly would have been better than 26th,” he said. “Going in to the Morzine stage, I think I had a 1:30, 1:20 lead on Contador, which is something no GC rider had had on Contador since he’s been riding the Tour de France, so it was an enviable position.”

Fewer racing days in 2011

After starting last season in January at the Tour Down Under, Evans will make a slower start this time around. He will debut at the Giro del Friuli on March 3, before riding Strade Bianche. Evans took an epic stage win at the 2010 Giro on Tuscany’s dirt roads but he will not be praying for similarly wet conditions in March.

“If it’s not too cold, I don’t mind if it rains just as much as the others,” he joked. “But I think one of classics guys will have more of a presence at Strade Bianche than I will.”

Evans will then proceed to Tirreno-Adriatico. Later in the spring, Amstel Gold Race and Flèche Wallone will feature on Evans’ schedule, although he will only decide on his participation in Liège-Bastogne-Liège closer to the race. As anticipated, he will then forgo the Giro d’Italia in order to build up to the Tour de France.

In spite of the reduced number of racing days prior to the Tour this season, Evans acknowledged that he finds the notion of using a race to train as somewhat of an anathema to his way of thinking.

“I like to race, I like to race at the best of my ability and if I can race good from February to October I’m happy to do so,” he said. “I don’t go in the gruppetto that many times during the season. The one day that I do during the year, everybody is looking at me and asking me what the hell I’m doing there.”

Off the bike, one of Evans’ deepest interests is the cause of the Tibetan people. While leading the Tour in 2008, he brought widespread exposure to some of the issues surrounding the country by sporting an under-vest that featured the Tibetan flag, and he continues his work in a more private sphere.

“I don’t do so much publicly, but I have my connections and I try and help out the Tibetan child I sponsor in Nepal and a school that has to raise a lot of money,” he said. “I’m still working on a few things, just on a less public level.

“It’s a country that’s always intrigued me. I’m still yet to visit. I’ve been to Nepal, but I’m yet to cross into Tibet but in the near future I’ll be there.”

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