CAP FRÉHEL, France (VN) – Cadel Evans (BMC) was all smiles after avoiding the crashes in Wednesday’s tense and nervous stage. The former mountain biker is flying high after a near-perfect start to the 2011 Tour de France that included a breakthrough stage victory Tuesday, second place in the team time trial and second in the opening stage. Just one second off the yellow jersey, Evans has a comfortable “head start” on arch-rival Alberto Contador, the rider he lost the 2007 Tour to by just 23 seconds, the second smallest in Tour history.
BMC team president Jim Ochowicz said after Evans’ victory against Contador on Tuesday that the team is cautiously optimistic following its strong opening.
“We’re in a good position. We are not any way shape or form thinking that we’re running away with this one. It’s a close race. It will be close all the way to Paris,” Ochowicz told VeloNews. “When you’re going neck-to-neck with supposedly the world’s best rider and you beat him at his game, it’s a confidence-builder. It says it all. For the Tour, it’s the biggest victory for Cadel.”
The team hopes to repeat its performance from Wednesday and avoid mishaps over the next few days. The team hopes to protect Evans and deliver him to the foot of the mountains, when the real battle for the yellow jersey begins. Ochowicz said Evans will be more confident than ever after knocking back Contador in Tuesday’s hilltop finale.
“It means a lot for him as a competitor. It was one of his style of races to win, a semi-classic kind of a finish, with a big climb at the end, fast before and hard terrain. It’s great for him to win and sets the tone for him this Tour. And gives him a lot more confidence than he has had in the past in his ability to get the job done,” he said. “He delivered the goods and that’s a big accomplishment.”
Ochowicz said Evans’ bike change with about 20km to go proved yet again that race radios are needed in a race as important as the Tour. Without race radio, Evans would have likely lost more time and probably not have regained contact with the main pack, let alone win the stage.
“We are still not sure what happened, but he had a mechanical. The team knew it and he let us know it on the radio. He dropped the bike, we got out and gave him a new one as quickly as possible. The team came back to help him and brought him back to the front,” Ochowicz said. “We need radios for that. That’s what they’re for. He wouldn’t be able to react at all without a radio. You may not get back and it happens 10-20 times during the day when people in similar situations. It just keeps things safe.”
Hesjedal gets back some time
The UCI jury ruled that Ryder Hesjedal would be awarded the same time as the Alberto Contador group from stage 1, meaning that the “Weight of Nation” gains back 35 seconds he would have lost in the first stage of the 2011 Tour.
“They figured it out and clarified that I entered the 3km to go area, that I entered with Alberto and those guys, and that was the true time I was given,” Hesjedal told VeloNews. “That day, some guys got double-negative, by having a crash that far out, and then guys who got inside 3km, when guys got the same time when there was a crash when there would clearly be differences if there were not crashes there. It was a tough day all around and you’re on the wrong end of the stick.”
Hesjedal said Garmin-Cervélo is savoring its early-Tour success, but remains focused on the job of protecting the yellow jersey. He said victories in the team time trial and by Tyler Farrar have quieted the critics that the team couldn’t deliver in the Tour de France.
“That was not affecting us (team critics), it was just the way it was. We made critics be quiet pretty quick. It’s not easy to win a Tour stage. We’ve been to four Tours, stage wins don’t come easy. There are a lot of teams going for that success. We’re getting ours right now,” he said. “We had a little champagne, but you gotta focus on the next stage. On paper, I think we keep the yellow jersey to Super-Besse. After what Thor did (Tuesday), for sure we’re going to try to hang onto it until stage 8 and we’ll just keeping booking from there.”
A motorcycle belonging to Getty Images was kicked out of the race after colliding with Danish rider Nicki Sorensen (Saxo Bank-Sungard).
José Rojas (Movistar) and Tom Boonen (Quick-Step) were relegated to last place in the intermediate sprint. The relegation cost Rojas eight points and he ceded the green jersey to Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto)
57km: Sylvain Chavanel (Quick-Step), scrapes to left shoulder
68km: Janez Brajkovic (RadioShack), fractured right clavicle, trauma to head – transferred to hospital in Guingamp
75km: Yaroslav Popovych (RadioShack), cuts and scrapes to left elbow, knee, wrist; Juanma Garate (Rabobank), cuts to right thigh; Levi Leipheimer (RadioShack), cut to hand, elbow
108km: Tom Boonen (Quick-Step), cuts to right shoulder; Gert Steegmans (Quick-Step), cuts to elbow, hand
155km: Ivan Velasco (Euskaltel-Euskadi), likely fractured right clavicle, transferred to hospital in Saint-Malo
Yellow: Thor Hushovd (Garmin-Cervélo) sprinted to 10th in the stage to conserve his one-second lead
Green: Philippe Gilbert (Omega Pharma-Lotto) takes points jersey after the race jury relegated José Rojas in the intermediate sprint; Gilbert leads Rojas, 120-112
Polka-dot: Cadel Evans (BMC) keeps the King of the Mountain jersey with two points
White: Geraint Thomas (Sky) sprinted to fifth in the stage to keep the Under-25 jersey; Tejay Van Garderen (HTC) sat up after working hard during the stage and slipped from one-second back to 2:47 back
Team: Garmin-Cervélo retains its two-second lead over Sky
Most Aggressive: José Ivan Gutiérrez (Movistar) won the day’s prize
A day after Jurgen Van den Walle (Omega Pharma-Lotto) became the Tour’s first abandon, the race shed two more. Jani Brajkovic (RadioShack) crashed out and Christophe Kern (Europcar) abandoned with knee pain. 195 riders remain in the Tour.
More Bretagne weather is on tap. Forecasters are calling for scattered showers, temperatures around 19-C with south/southwesterly tail- and cross-winds at 30kph, with gusts up to 50kph.