Cadel Evans served up a reminder that he should not be ignored when it comes to drawing up the list of favourites for next month’s Tour de France by winning the opening time trial of the Dauphiné Libéré.
The Australian, whose 2008 Tour bid was finally extinguished with a below-par time trial on the last Saturday of the race, beat Alberto Contador by eight seconds in Nancy today (Sunday).
It was ominous that Contador, who played down expectations on the eve of the race by saying he would not be at his best here, was second, well clear of defending champion Alejandro Valverde in third place.
Contador hasn’t raced since winning the Tour of the Basque Country in early April, and if he’s not at his best here, he must surely be very near it.
The opening time trial of the Dauphiné Libéré passed through building sites on the outskirts of Nancy. It was a far cry from the glamour of Monte Carlo, which will welcome the Tour de France in four weeks’ time. Perhaps it was somewhat appropriate that the likes of Contador and Evans should ride past the rubble and piles of bricks because this race represents the building blocks of their preparation for the Tour.
As the big names began the 12-kilometre stage, Quick Step’s Belgian diesel Sebastien Rosseler set the best time of 16 minutes and nine seconds. Germany’s Christian Knees (Milram) came within a second of Rosseler’s time, then Vicenzo Nibali (Liquigas) and Frantisek Rabon (Columbia-Highroad) also narrowly missed out on Rosseler’s time.
When Evans crossed the line, he lowered the best time by 33 seconds and looked a certain winner.
Contador was next to finish and when he was outside Evans’s time, the first leader’s jersey of the race was destined for the Australian’s shoulders. Ivan Basso, who finished fifth at the Giro d’Italia was off the pace and outside the top ten.
Valverde caught his minute man, Stijn Devolder of Quick Step, but that was a slightly misleading marker because the Spaniard ended up 22 seconds down on Evans. Valverde, who has been banned from competing in Italy for two years, continues to race on elsewhere while UCI officials wait for the documents regarding the case to be passed to them. With the Tour de France set to cross the border into Italy on stage 16, and the Italian authorities thought to be keen to prevent Valverde entering their territory, his participation next month remains in doubt.
Britain’s David Millar (Garmin-Slipstream) came home in 16-13, which gave him tenth place.
Tom Boonen made his return to top-level racing after being suspended by his Quick Step team for testing positive for cocaine out of competition. He finished well down.
CADEL EVANS – WINS FOR LOTTO
The Dauphiné Libéré time trial was Evans’s 12th win in four-and-a-half seasons with the Belgian team Silence-Lotto, which used to be called Davitamon-Lotto.
March 2009 – stage, Settimana Coppi e Bartali
March 2008 – stage and overall, Settimana Coppi e Bartali
March 2008 – stage, Paris-Nice
February 2008 – stage, Ruta del Sol
August 2007 – Beijing test event time trial, road race and overall
April 2006 – stage and overall, Tour of Romandie
August 2005 – stage, Tour of Germany
Stage one: Nancy time trial, 12 kilometres
1. Cadel Evans (Australia) Silence-Lotto 15-36
2. Alberto Contador (Spain) Astana at 8sec
3. Alejandro Valverde (Spain) Caisse d’Epargne at 22sec
4. Sebastien Rosseler (Belgium) Quick Step at 33sec
5. Vincenzo Nibali (Italy) Liquigas at 34sec
6. Frantisek Rabon (Czech Republic) Columbia-Highroad at 34sec
7. Christian Knees (Germany) Milram at 34sec
8. Benoit Vaugrenard (France) Francaise des Jeux at 36sec
9. Jose Ivan Gutierrez (Spain) Caisse d’Epargne at 36sec
10. David Millar (Great Britain) Garmin-Slipstream at 37sec
38. Nicolas Roche (Ireland) AG2R at 58sec
91. Daniel Martin (Ireland) Garmin-Slipstream at 1-19
Britain’s David Millar put in a solid ride to come 10th
Alberto Contador came second behind Evans
Cadel Evans pulls on the yellow leader’s jersey – will he be doing the same in July?