Thursday 23 November 2017

Brave Evans poised to steal yellow after keeping Schleck in his sights

Alasdair Fotheringham

cadel evans went from near disaster to pole position in the battle to win the Tour yesterday as the Australian was dropped on the first climb of the Tour's last Alpine stage, but bounced back so hard, he is now poised to secure victory.

Evans did not win the stage after Pierre Rolland left behind the strongest rider of the day, Spain's Alberto Contador, to take France's first win on the Alpe d'Huez in 25 years. Nor was Evans able to prevent arch-rival Andy Schleck from taking over the yellow jersey after Thomas Voeckler, following a stubborn 10-day defence, finally threw in the towel.

However, thanks to his astounding resilience, Evans has now moved up to third overall, with just 57 seconds to regain on Schleck overall in today's 42.5km time trial.

Given Schleck's deficiencies in the race against the clock, the BMC rider should overtake the Luxemburger to claim Australia's first ever victory in the Tour.

Evans preached caution yesterday, given that he lost the 2007 and 2008 Tours in the final time trial after seemingly being poised to pounce after the last mountain stage -- in 2008, in fact, he finished second after failing to outstrip Schleck's old team-mate Carlos Sastre, who had won on Alpe d'Huez.

However, given his extraordinary defence of his overall position yesterday, there can be no doubting that Evans has deep resources to draw on to fight for his first Grand Tour victory.

It could have ended so badly for the aussie after violent acceleration by triple-Tour winner Contador -- stung by his disastrous defeat on Thursday -- at no less than 90km from the finish on the first ascent of the day, the Telegraphe, shook the race up completely. While Voeckler was dropped, surprisingly Evans looked to be in even worse trouble, losing almost two minutes on Contador and Schleck in less than a couple of kilometres.

However, rather than physical problems, Evans later explained that it had been technical difficulties with his bike, and after a phenomenal chase over the Galibier, he finally regained contact with Contador and Schleck on the Alpe d'Huez.

Contador then blasted off again with 10km to go, but the Spaniard had expended so much energy with his long-distance attack that he could not open a huge gap -- although his move spelt curtains for Voeckler.

Caught by Spain's Samuel Sanchez and Rolland near the summit, Contador failed to respond after Rolland powered away, but even if he will not take a fourth Tour, the Saxo Bank rider's memorable mountain attacks yesterday allowed him to finish the race with his head held high.

Behind, the Schlecks failed to shake off Evans, and that could cost them dear in today's time trial although Andy was optimistic about his chances. "I've got a minute's advantage," he said. "I'm confident I'll keep it all the way to Paris."

If the yellow jersey is still very much undecided, the green jersey competition is now effectively sewn up for Mark Cavendish and, barring last-minute disaster, he should be able to ride into Paris as Britain's first winner of the classification. Dropped on the first climb of the day, Cavendish finished in an 80-strong group less than 30 seconds outside the time limit on the stage.

But, despite being docked 20 points, as happened after Thursday's Alpine stage, crucially yesterday the same punishment was meted out for his closest rival Jose Joaquin Rojas, also in the same bunch. As a result, Cavendish remains in the lead. "It's a real relief, it's as if the Tour is over," Cavendish said. "I will roll through tomorrow's stage and then see what happens Sunday." If the last two years are anything to go by, that will be a win in Paris for the Manxman. But this time, in green.

Nicolas Roche trailed home in 99th place yesterday and dropped to 26th overall. (© Independent News Service)

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