Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) proved he was better than a runner-up with a win at the opening time trial of the Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré on Sunday. Evans finished seven seconds ahead of Alberto Contador (Astana) and 23 seconds ahead of Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne). The time trial's distance, 12.1km, made it a stage one instead of a prologue. It included a hill at the beginning and a complicated finale that suited the strongest men rather than the time trial specialists.
"This is a nice surprise," said the Australian Evans, who is a favorite for the upcoming Tour de France, after his win. It was a chance for Evans to take revenge on another Tour favorite, Contador, who beat him by 31 seconds at the opening Paris-Nice flat time trial.
Evans was far from his best condition back in March, and he knew he would only get stronger as July approached. "I didn't doubt that I could beat him again," Evans said. "For both of us, the most important is the month of July, and I continue to work towards that."
Contador and Evans shared a similar racing program leading up to the Dauphiné. Both are coming off significant breaks. Contador took a longer time out - he has not raced since the Tour of the Basque country on April 11. Evans last raced the Tour of Romandie on May 3.
"They both arrived fresh and motivated," said Astana's directeur sportif Alain Gallopin, who was happy to see his protégé Contador "turning the legs very quickly, especially towards the top of the hill". That's where Contador was just three seconds behind Evans. After a good start, the Australian pulled of a finish that was relatively faster than his rivals.
Gallopin noted that the freshness of Evans and Contador was unlike the condition of Ivan Basso (Liquigas). The Italian is racing the Dauphiné right after the Giro d'Italia. Today, Basso scored 41st, one minute behind Evans. However, Basso did suffer a mechanical problem. After one kilometer, a screw fixing Basso's handlebar came undone and remained loose until the end.
"It's possible that toward the end of the Dauphiné, the situation will switch. The foundation that Basso built during the Giro might play to his favour," said Gallopin, who was the team director overseeing Basso at CSC when he won the 2006 Giro.
"At this point, my win today is a great confidence boost for the team," said Evans who assured reports that Silence-Lotto will defend his Dauphiné lead as long he has it. "The lead is good for the confidence." The Aussie is at the race to win - not just to prepare for the Tour de France.
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