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.
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
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
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
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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