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95th Tour de France - 'Holding Out For A Hero'
By Nick Bull
Date: 7/6/2008
95th Tour de France - 'Holding Out For A Hero'

95th Tour de France - 'Holding Out For A Hero'
This has to be a Tour of redemption, deliverance and progression. A hero is needed more than ever.

I was out riding just the other day in some rather tranquil and peaceful country roads, when I got passed by a vehicle that had some music blasting out of the windows. Such a scene is common place in England; sadly the music is never Springsteen or the Floyd, it tends to be something along the lines of Rap and Hip Be Bop Hop (or whatever it is called).

That day it was different – Bonnie Tyler's 'Holding Out For A Hero' was the (poor) song of choice. I double took to see if the car was a red Skoda with Monsieur Prudhomme gazing out of the sunroof.

It wasn't.

You see, the 2008 Tour is searching for a saviour. It may be one rider, it could be more. Still tainted by the Landis/Vino/Rasmussen affairs from the past two years, the event is still trying to come out of the post-Armstrong era with any credibility. This has to be a Tour of redemption, deliverance and progression. A hero is needed more than ever.

Most people, it seems, believe that Cadel Evans is that man. Logic is with them, since this is the rider who has worked his way up from finishing eighth place in 2005 to becoming last year's runner up. He would have been on the amended Podium in 2006 if he hadn't have conceded nearly two minutes to Carlos Sastre on the stage to Morzine in the final week. He can time-trial, climb mountains competently and last the full three weeks. That's all very well, but every time he has been touted as the favourite he hasn't delivered. Any pressure has a negative effect on him, and this is something he must overcome now.

A calm Cadel Evans smiles at the start of stage 2.

I acknowledge that he was new to the road (after back to back mountain bike world cup victories in 1998-99), yet Evans' arrival on the scene was in the 2002 Giro. This remains the only time he has led a Grand Tour, though it is the collapse on Stage 17 of that race, up to the Folgaria Passo Coe, which sits in the memory. He stated at the time that he 'didn't bonk... my legs just weren't going for me'. That strikes me as being the same thing, and I'm not sure if Evans has recovered mentally from that. If he takes the Jersey in the Tour, Can he cope with the additional press calls, the extra cameras on him in the peloton? Especially as people will bring the events of May 30, 2002 to his attention again.

Furthermore, last year he complained that Contador and Rasmussen, in particular, worked against him on the climbs, namely on the road to the Plateau de Beille and Gourette. After the latter, he protested: 'Leipheimer was working for Contador; I thought they were more interested in the win than the [final overall] podium. I know Bruyneel is not such a silly directeur, maybe he was playing with me. There were times were I could have accelerated, but when it is two to one I am always at a disadvantage. I had to ride my tempo'.

Stage 6 Dauphiné Libéré - Cadel Evans leads the chase of Leipheimer.

You see, Cadel, that is how the race works. If you're the favourite, young pretenders will try to knock you off your perch. Greg Lemond did it to his team-mate, and French darling Bernard Hinault in 1985. Jan Ullrich nearly upstaged Bjarne Riis in 1996 before winning the race a year later. More recently, Ivan Basso took the fight to Lance Armstrong in 2004 on the slopes of La Mongie, while everyone else trailed behind. This year, the same is going to happen again. The Schleck brothers are bound to attack in the Mountains, Carlos Sastre could double up with one of the brothers, say, Andy and copy the Discovery tactics from last year. If you want to win a Tour, you have to deal with this. You will know, or you will calculate, who is after stage wins, and is a GC contender. The mindset is crucial.

His Lotto team aren't strong enough, either. Following a dual Popovych/Contador Discovery attack on the Galibier last year, he bemoaned: ' Lance Armstrong had a whole team for him, but I don't... .my guys did the best they could'.

Unlike Evans' team, Caisse d'Epargne, are well equipped to support Alejandro Valverde. Oscar Pereiro, for example, completes the role of Super-Domestique brilliantly. Even omitting his own Tour win two years ago, Pereiro has finished tenth in 2004,2005 and 2007. He has the experience, as well as the climbing ability to guide his team leader up the toughest of climbs. Strongmen like Ivan Guiterrez and Luis Leon Sanchez will be the powerhouses of the team, driving down the breakaways, while David Lopez and Arnaud Coyot will be the men doing the unrecognized jobs.

With Lotto, a lot of the work will be down to David Cioni and Yaroslav Popovych; McEwen won't be able to contribute, nor will twice lanterne-rouge Win Vansevenant. Despite his comments last year, Lotto seem caught in which game (Evans for Yellow or McEwen for Green) they want to play. It was mentioned earlier, but CSC could cause problems in the Pyrenees and Alps with a Sastre/Schleck combination. Damiano Cunego could benefit from Marzio Bruseghin, who is a perfect all rounder, while four of the Rabobank team rode in 2007 – and supported Michael Rasmussen brilliantly before his exclusion.

Stage 3 Criterium Dauphiné Libéré: A fast moving Cadel Evans finishes the first climb in the ITT. Evans moved to third on the G.C. but lost 19 seconds to Valverde. Cadel would  finish second on the G.C. 39 seconds off Valverde. Photo © 2008 Fotoreporter Sirotti

There is another thing that concerns me about Cadel. With Monsieur-'I'd do anything to keep Bruyneel from winning the Tour again' - Prudhomme banning Astana from this year's race, Alberto Contador is going to be a determined man come 2009, making this Evans' best chance (this is linked to what was mentioned earlier about pressure).

Contador has already placed two markers upon the Peloton - and the Lotto rider - by winning last year's Tour and also the recent Giro, where his condition and preparation were severely inferior to, say, that of Riccardo Ricco and Danilo Di Luca. He is stronger in the hills than against the watch, yet the way of thinking by the ASO when it comes to route design would suit him. The stage to L'Alpe du Huez just a handful of days before Paris would have suited him; it's similar to the one used on Stage 14 of last year's Tour to the Plateau de Beille, where he took the stage and outlined his potential as a Tour rider.

No-one mentioned Contador as a contender for the title before it started in London last year; it seemed that people thought a week-long stage race, such as the Paris-Nice, was more in his range. Before 2007, he'd only completed one Tour de France, finishing 31st in 2005. This brings us back to Valverde, who, in the past, has had a tendency to have one or two bad days in three week races. I think it is of no coincidence that, going into the Brest-Plumelec stage on Saturday, the Spaniard had only completed around 30 days of racing in 2008. In another link to the meticulous pre-Tour Armstrong preparation, he raced hard in the Dauphine, which the Texan won in both 2002 and 2003. This followed a victory in the Tour de Suisse in 2001, and all three were succeeded by Tour de France victories. Evans has been training hard in the Spanish Mountains, but has raced more than Valverde. The inconsistency that has plagued the Spaniard will have been the focus in the Caisse d'Epargne camp.

The one thing that I will say in Evans' defense is that he has been more aggressive in 2008. His ride up the Ventoux in the Paris – Nice was impressive, along with being one of the few attacking moves that we've seen from him. Popo did a great turn at the front, before the Australian – along with Robert Gesink – destroyed the rest of the peloton. At the same time, riding well up one mountain in a race where he was under no pressure is one thing, doing that for several days with the expectancy of fans and the media is another.

Don't get me wrong, I don't have a problem with Evans. However, if this is to be his year, he has to change a lot of things that 'taint' him from previous Tours. The Time Trial around Cholet is a great place to start; nonetheless the sign of intent has already been put down by Alejando Valverde and, arguably, Kim Kirchen on Stage Two. The severity of some of the climbs in the race, namely that of the Prato Nevoso and its sections over 8%, don't suit his 'at my own pace' cadence. He will need to be explosive on these parts, otherwise he will be dropped.

Even if he does win this year, Contador will probably be back next year, eager to make up for lost time. Valverde may have developed into a true contender, Riccardo Ricco will be another year matured (possibly), and could ride well. Andy Schleck will be twenty-four, and his peak years are fast approaching. Cadel could well be the winner in the 2008 Tour, but I don't think he's quite the hero the public are seeking.

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