Cadel Evans (BMC) had a good reason for losing 8:09 in the 204.5km ninth stage Tuesday and saw his yellow jersey dream fade to black: he was racing with a fractured elbow.
With the weight of the yellow jersey on his shoulders, Evans faltered midway up the Col de la Madeleine when Saxo Bank and Astana put riders on the front to drive the wedge.
“I had really bad crash (Sunday) and it cost me a lot of energy. Starting in yellow is also a vulnerability. The whole team rode fantastically, but I am the one who has to finish off the job,” Evans said. “I was dropped on the final climb with 20 guys, that’s not my normal level.”
With his left arm wrapped with physio-tape, Evans succumbed to the cruel reality that he couldn’t follow and could only watch as his hopes to win the Tour faded away. Evans, a two-time Tour runner-up, tumbled from first to 18th at 7:47 behind new race leader Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank).
Evans injured his elbow in an early-stage pileup in Sunday’s summit finish to Morzine-Avoriaz, but didn’t realize how serious it was until Monday. He started Tuesday’s stage without sharing the troubling news with teammates and simply hoped for the best.
The Aussie collapsed into tears into the arms of his teammate Mauro Santambrogio after crossing the line when he realized his hopes of becoming the first Australian winner of the Tour were all but over.
“Everything was going so good, I am just sorry to have let them all down,” Evans said. “It’s not my normal self to be dropped from a group like that. Normally today is a stage when I might have a chance for a stage win and it wouldn’t have an effect on GC. For the win for the Tour, I am pretty sure it’s all over for me this year.”
On Sunday, Evans crashed in what was the first of three spills for Lance Armstrong, who also saw his Tour hopes fade when the seven-time Tour champ lost nearly 12 minutes on the road to Avoriaz.
Evans, however, was able to finish off the stage and claim the yellow jersey Sunday.
That evening, he first began to realize how serious the injury was. The next morning, he cut short a training ride with his teammates and trained on the rollers instead. Later Monday afternoon, Evans and BMC team doctor Max Testa went to a Morzine hospital. X-rays revealed a fracture.
Evans decided not to tell his teammates, who buried themselves to keep Evans in position in the grueling, five-climb stage across the Alps.
“We decided not to tell anybody because we didn’t want anybody hitting us on the first climb,” said BMC team manager Jim Ochowicz. “We controlled the race and we were going to see what the outcome was … you saw the outcome.”
Team mechanics raised his handlebars to make the stage was as comfortable as possible, but Evans was clearly struggling when the main pack hit the hors categorie Madeleine.
Evans, one of the most tenacious riders in the peloton, will stay in the race.
“We have to change our strategy now,” Ochowicz said. “It’s obvious we’re not going to win the Tour now.”
BMC sport director John Lelangue said Evans was “more than courageous.”
“We knew there would be repercussions after his crash. But for us the race continues,” Lelangue said. “He tried to limit the damage on the way down the Madeleine, he did a great job on the descent. We lost the yellow jersey, but that’s racing. You just have to accept it.”
Evans rode a new, custom-painted BMC bike to honor the yellow jersey Tuesday, but it was a short run. Mechanics were mounting the bike on the team car at the end of the stage with little hope that it will be ridden again, at least during this year’s Tour.
Evans’ short spell in yellow wasn’t the first time the ex-mountain biker grabbed a grand tour leader’s jersey only to see it slip away the next day. In 2002, Evans held the pink jersey for one stage, a feat he repeated in 2010 after winning the epic stage across the strada bianchi. Evans also led the 2009 Vuelta a España for one day.