Cadel Evans proved again on Tuesday that not only is his climbing is more consistent than some of the other favourites in the Tour de France, but that he can also count on superior bike handling skills in descents when facing his rivals. In the finale of stage 16 into Gap, the BMC leader may have made up only a few seconds on the other GC contenders, but he's shown that he will be the man to beat if current race leader Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) fades in the coming high mountain stages.
By having followed Alberto Contador's surprise move on the day's ultimate climb, the medium mountain Col de Manse looming above Gap, and shaking off his breakaway companions in the descent to the finish line, the former mountain biker picked up another three seconds on the Tour de France champion as well as 21 seconds on the other favourites including the yellow jersey. Andy Schleck even lost 1:09 on the Australian.
In the finish, Evans admitted that the move hadn't been premeditated but that he was able to take advantage of it perfectly.
"I hadn't excpected the attacks on the climb, I was more prepared for the downhill which was narrow and actually really scared me," Evans told reporters on the line. "I just followed the moves. George (Hincapie) and Burghie (Marcus Burghardt) got me in the right position at the bottom of the last climb, and then I played my card from there. It was a good day."
In the rainy and cold conditions, Contador used the climb to surprise his rivals in a bid to take some lost time back. Evans was able to gradually bridge up to him and Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), putting on a steady rythm. "I took my time because there were still 21 or 22 kilometres to go, and it's been such close racing so far that we might not have gone alone from there," he explained.
BMC director John Lelangue was also happy with how his team rode and the day's outcome. "Contador and Sanchez were allies in circumstance, so I told Cadel to ride. In the descent back into Gap, when we saw that the two Spaniards couldn't follow Cadel, he put everything on one card and managed to take a few seconds," he said, admitting his confidence but warning of a dark horse who still has to reveal himself in the race: Liquigas' Ivan Basso.
"We took some time off the Schlecks, Voeckler and the others, including Basso who to me remains a serious contender for the overall victory," Lelangue added.