By Shane Stokes
Australian rider Cadel Evans has already had a great start to the season, taking four victories. He's riding this week's Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège Classics primarily to test his form and to see where he is in relation to some of his rivals for the Tour de France. However his success thus far in 2008 suggests he could find himself fighting it out for another big result.
After taking stage victories in the Vuelta a Andalucía/Ruta del Sol, Paris-Nice and the Settimana Internazionale Coppi e Bartali, as well as the general classification in the latter event, Evans recently placed second to Alberto Contador on the last stage and in the final overall standings of the Vuelta Ciclista al País Vasco.
Since then he's been working towards the two Classics he will ride this week. A strong showing there is not crucial, given that he has still two months before his primary season aim, but it would be a nice boost to his morale.
"Since País Vasco I've been training, mainly for Fleche and Liège," he told Cyclingnews on Monday. "I always do a bit of training towards those, I'm looking to see what I can do there. I want to see if I can be amongst the front-runners; that said, the success of my season is going to be judged by what I do in July and August, not now."
The 31 year-old has been pleasantly surprised by his form thus far. "It has been a good start to the year. I'm a little bit better than I anticipated, but I am a professional and it is never a bad thing to have some wins and for things to going well heading into the bigger races during the season.
"We tweak my programme every year but also each season you get a little bit older, a little bit wiser, and make some improvements and refinements. Things are certainly coming together for me now."
The Silence Lotto rider had an excellent 2007, with some of the top performances being his second overall in the Dauphiné Libéré, second in the Tour de France, fourth in the Vuelta a España and fifth in the world road race championships in September. His consistency earned him the final victory in the ProTour, and he headed back to Australia satisfied with how things had gone.
It's easy to jump to the conclusion that these performances boosted him psychologically and made him more determined while preparing for the new season. However he plays down this suggestion, saying that he has never had a problem knuckling down to what has to be done.
"I don't think that it affects my motivation much," he explained. "I am fairly self-motivated as it is and the external factors don't always have an effect on my motivation."
That said, he is clearly reassured by his strong start to the season. When asked what stood out as the highlight of those four wins, he valued each but felt that one in particular was a boost for Silence Lotto.
"Winning on the Ventoux was certainly prestigious," he said. "And winning the race in Italy changed a few things for me, being married to an Italian and so on. But, if anything, winning at the very start of the year was very good for the team, in terms of their motivation. That is probably the most significant, to be honest."
The team would be similarly psyched if he rides well in Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Last year he was 29th and 36th respectively; his performances so far this season suggest that he should fare better than that this week, putting him ahead of schedule in relation to his Tour de France preparations.
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