PUY SAINT PIERRE, France (VN) — Cadel Evans was a man on an island high above Briançon Wednesday as he pursued an audacious Andy Schleck to the summit of the Col du Galibier. After the finish Evans and his BMC Racing team management said they rode to win and were critical of the tactics of the other top GC riders.
Team manager John LeLangue said Evans risked everything in stiff winds to chase down Schleck (Leopard-Trek), who rode onto the base of the finish climb with a four-minute lead.
“We were not riding for losing the Tour,” LeLangue told VeloNews. “We took the risk of losing the Tour, the podium, the top five, to be in a position where there could be a counter, but at least we were there.”
Evans surged a number of times near the Col du Lautaret, 8.5km from the finish. He split the group, dropping maillot jaune Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), but the moves went nowhere when Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Sungard), sixth and eighth overall, would not pull through.
At one point, the group spread across the road behind the slowing Aussie and Evans waived his left arm in frustration. Fränk Schleck sat in the wheels all the while, protected from fierce head and crosswinds as his teammate and brother continued onto the exposed upper reaches of the Galibier.
“Each time everybody was jumping in the wheel and then staying there,” said LeLangue. “Nobody was directly going in the counter. Nobody was taking a relay.”
High up on the Tour’s tallest-ever finish it became clear why Contador and Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) stayed in the wheel when they both fell off the pace. Contador stuck it out longer, but was undone when Evans upped the pace 3km from the finish.
“Contador was dropped. Sanchez was dropped. You don’t get dropped if you’re not using everything you’ve got,” said BMC Racing president Jim Ochowicz. “All-in-all, I think everybody in that race today used everything they had in the tank.”
Before the elite group reached the finish climb, Sanchez’s Euskaltel-Euskadi squad put a number of riders on the front of the maillot jaune group, but they could not reduce the gap to Schleck and teammate Maxime Monfort, Nicolas Roche (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Dries Devenyns (Quick Step) and Egor Silin (Katusha).
Evans’ mates Marcus Burghardt and Amael Moinard returned from behind their team leader after the descent from the second climb, the hors categorie Col d’Izoard. They dropped off after topping off Evans’ bottles and the Aussie went into a defiant, 25km time trial on the front of the chase. He questioned Europcar’s resistance to helping draw back Schleck and preserve Voeckler’s yellow jersey, which he eventual held by a scant 15 seconds.
“I had to put it on the line, but it was my Tour to win and mine to lose,” said Evans. “It’s also a bit bizarre when Voeckler’s team stops riding and he has the yellow jersey. They’ve ridden a lot all week, but he still had a teammate in the end and just sort of looked at me to do the work, but I’m alone too.”
As he rose above Briançon, Evans’ face clenched with effort and he stood on the pedals. Voeckler and Basso stayed in the wheel, trailed by Fränk Schleck. The Aussie was the heir apparent to the Frenchman’s yellow jersey Wednesday morning. The chase fell to him and he took more than 90 seconds out of Schleck’s advantage high on the mountain.
By the time they reached the finish atop the unbelievably steep, 10-plus-percent switchbacks above the tunnel – and Fränk Schleck’s inevitable counter-attack came – Evans reduced the younger Schleck’s advantage to 2:15. Basso and Voeckler finished three and six seconds back, respectively. Even more telling of the tactics on the Galibier perhaps was the finish of Voeckler’s top domestique, Pierre Rolland, at 2:27.
LeLangue stopped short after the stage of accusing Evans’ rivals of giving up on the Tour.
“I don’t know. You have to ask them,” he said. “Either we, if say we don’t ride then everybody is riding for second-place in this Tour or we take a big risk and we go for. We decided we go for it.”
When asked if Basso and Voeckler had ridden for second on the Galibier, LeLangue wouldn’t commit.
“I don’t know,” he said. “You have to ask them.”