BOULOGNE-SUR-MER, France (AFP) — Tour de France champion Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) knows only too well what it’s like to try and win the world’s toughest bike race after losing one or several teammates.
And after the first crash-marred day of the 99th edition, which led to the abandonment of a rider from yellow jersey rival Team Sky, he was counting his lucky stars that he still has eight BMC riders to count on.
“It’s always a worry to lose teammates,” said Evans, who sits 10 seconds behind Sky’s Bradley Wiggins four days into the race.
“Whenever there’s a crash in the peloton you’re just hoping all your guys come through. We need to be firing on all cylinders all the way to Paris.”
One squad that is already a man down is Wiggins’ Sky team.
Sky’s Belarusian rider Kanstantsin Sivtsou became the first of the peloton’s 198 riders to abandon when he fractured his tibia on the first of six small climbs to feature on the narrow roads leading to the coast. His loss will be felt, especially in the mountains where Wiggins — who crashed out on stage 7 last year — will have one man less to go and search for water when he needs it and, probably more importantly, pace him on the early parts of the climbs.
Sky team chief Dave Brailsford believes, however, that the team’s all-around strength on the climbs will pull them through.
“[Evans] is a very good climber, so he can do that first part in the key mountain stages. But to be honest the climbing department, as it were, is probably where we’re at our strongest,” Brailsford said. “It’s like boxing — as long as you’re still fighting you can knock the other fellow out. That’s the approach you’ve got to take to it.”
Having visited the stage in advance because of Evans’ teammate Philippe Gilbert’s chances of winning on the uphill finish, BMC was well aware of the dangers and worked hard to stay at the front of the peloton, where risks of crashing are reduced.
But that didn’t make it any easier, said Evans.
“There are 198 riders in the group, really small roads to race on and of course everyone wants to be in the first 20 positions, so all day, really fighting. But that’s what (Manuel) Quinziato, (Marcus) Burghardt and George (Hincapie) are good at… just keeping me there,” he said. “There was tension all day. I don’t know what it looks like on TV, but you don’t take your hands off the brake levers for a moment.”
After Gilbert suffered a crash with no consequences, Evans had a go at victory himself and finished sixth as Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) won his second stage in three days.
But with the first big yellow jersey rendezvous coming on stage 7 this Saturday, Evans said the team’s race is coming together.
“Getting the rhythm of the race takes a few days,” Evans said. “I’m feeling better each day and as a team we’re getting old habits back and getting going. Saturday onwards is where it really matters, but these stages are all important as well.”
Evans had not heard of Sky’s setback, but when told, he said, “You need to be firing on all cylinders in this
race and to be one man down, it’s not an advantage, that’s for sure. I’ve been many guys down on certain occasions. We don’t have a team time trial, that’s where it’s really crucial, but nine’s better than eight.”