LA PLANCHE DES BELLES FILLES, France (VN) — Defending champion Cadel Evans got his first taste of how viciously Sky will attack him in this year’s Tour de France. And it tastes very, very bitter.
“The strategy?” Sky director sportif Sean Yates said Saturday at the summit of La Planche des Belles Filles, after his squad battered the peloton. “Turn the screw. Just keep turning the screw, and then one by one, they will pop.”
Pop they did. Sky set such an inflammatory tempo that the general-classification pool was distilled very clearly on the Tour de France’s first climbing stage. Only Evans and Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) were able to match the surges of Sky’s Richie Porte and Chris Froome. Wiggins, meanwhile, never appeared in difficulty.
After Evans attacked 300 meters from the line, he found himself between a flying Froome, who took the stage by two seconds, and the cool Wiggins on the Belles Filles’ 22-percent headwall, smashing his bike into the road in his body-rocking style. Froome surged to take the stage and Wiggins tacked himself to Evans’ rear wheel.
“That’s where we’ve got to take on a little more aggressive role in the race,” Evans (BMC Racing) said at the team car. “But when you see he’s got three guys with him, I’ve got one, or was maybe isolated already, what can you do that’s going to last from a long way out?”
Not much, and that’s what the British team is counting on. Sky dropped a depth charge that shattered the field on the day’s final climb, a 5.9km ascent at 8.5 percent. Saturday’s 199km effort wasn’t a true mountain stage, but it offered up a finishing climb steep enough to send GC anchors falling from the lead group.
The display was a harbinger of things to come for Evans, whose team hasn’t shown it can climb with the likes of Sky.
“I think the plan is clear to all concerned,” Yates said. “I’d be a pretty bad dude if I wasn’t happy about that [performance]. All is pretty much as I expected. I know our guys are flying.”
BMC’s Jim Ochowicz told VeloNews the move was slightly surprising.
“The races each day eliminate people. Today, it’s down to a three-, four-horse race. The others, I don’t think, can make the gaps back,” he said. “But I’m not totally surprised. We saw [Sky] do it in Dauphiné, and it isn’t the first time this year they’ve put a lot of numbers at the front. But that’s a challenge we knew we would face, so it’s not something we’re afraid of or we’re hiding from.
“This is the first mountain stage. Repeating it is another thing.”
Sky will employ the tactic again in hopes of cracking Evans, who showed at the 2011 Tour he can ride on grit alone.
“He’s the man, as far as I’m concerned,” Yates said. “As I’ve thought from the start, the main rival is Cadel. And that outfit would never give up, he would never give up. We’ve got to take it a day at a tie and tick all the boxes.
“It’s a long way to Paris.”