SAINT-VALLIER, France (AFP) — Cadel Evans sent notice to his rivals Monday, winning stage 1 of the Critérium du Dauphiné.
Evans (BMC Racing) beat Jérôme Coppel (Saur-Sojasun) and Andrey Kashechkin (Astana), who finished second and third, respectively.
Bradley Wiggins (Sky), who finished second in Sunday’s prologue, took the overall leader’s jersey from Orica-GreenEdge’s Luke Durbridge. Wiggins leads Evans by one second on GC.
“I’m arriving at the Dauphiné after a long period of training,” said Evans. “It’s a bit of a surprise to win so soon but it’s obviously a good surprise. It’s good for me and for the team. We come to the Dauphiné every year for a test, to work together and get into the rhythm of competition.
“Can I win it? Of course, I’ll do it. In the prologue yesterday (Sunday), I wasn’t bad — only six seconds behind the specialists.”
Evans, Coppel and Kashechkin attacked on the downhill run-in to Saint-Vallier and held onto a narrow, four-second advantage at the line.
Coppel said that Evans was simply stronger in the finale.
“We were all in line after the rise and it was the right time to launch the attack,” he said. “I drove for two kilometers. In the sprint, Evans was the strongest and I could do nothing against him. I am disappointed because it is the Dauphiné, it’s a little home and I would have liked to win. But second behind Evans is not ridiculous.
Spain’s 2008 Olympic road race champion Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) sustained a heavy fall but was able to continue riding, in what is a key warm-up race for the Tour de France.
The 34-year-old, who was on Friday named to the Spanish team for the London Olympics, came down in a mass crash 47km into the first stage from Seyssins. He remounted and chased, finishing 23 minutes behind the leaders, after initial reports had the Spaniard abandoning the race.
Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan) also ran into trouble, falling off the lead group on the final climb to finish three minutes off the pace.
Wiggins took tenuous control of the GC when Durbridge fell off the pace.
“I’ve got the (leader’s) jersey but it wasn’t the objective today,” said Wiggins. ”If I wasn’t the yellow jersey, they’d say that I was rubbish, and if I get it, they say that it’s too early. It doesn’t matter.
“It’s difficult not to race for victory. I like doing the race when I’m here, and the general classification comes afterwards.
“The others? I’m not surprised that Cadel’s in front. Andy (Schleck)? He’ll be (in contention) at the Tour, as he often is.
“No disrespect to the Dauphiné, but it’s just the Dauphiné. We’re still a long way away from the Tour.”
Tuesday’s second stage covers 160km from Lamastre to Saint-Felicien in the Ardennes.
Editor’s Note: Keep your browser pointed to VeloNews.com for more from stage 1 of the Critérium du Dauphiné.