Evans fights to salvage pride
At this crucial stage of the race, racing with the sprinters and the non-climbers on the Tour de France was not what Cadel Evans had in mind.Le Grand-Bornand – Racing with the sprinters and the non-climbers on the Tour de France was not what Cadel Evans had in mind at this crucial stage of the race.
But that was the sorry state in which Australia's two-time runner-up found himself on the final day in the Alps which saw Alberto Contador tighten his grip on the yellow jersey.
While Contador rode to the finish here in second place behind Frank Schleck, controversially defying Astana's team orders in the process, Evans was still somewhere on the last of stage 17's five climbs.
The 32-year-old Australian eventually finished with the 'grupetto' - the group of non-climbers who usually band together to try and limit their losses in the mountains.
It was a huge drop in status but, as Evans later admitted on his Twitter page, his first ever experience in the slow-coach at least gave him a chance to talk to other Australians.
After finishing 29 minutes adrift of Contador and the two Schleck brothers Andy and Frank, the tone was less playful as Evans explained his latest setback after two previous days of punching below his weight in the Alps.
"Physically, I am not anywhere near where I was on a bad day," said Evans, who began struggling with the yellow jersey group's pace on the first climb, the Cormet de Roselend.
"What can I do? I can kill myself for 25th place in the GC (general classification) or something, but I am not riding for that. My ambitions are much higher."
Having claimed he was "fine physically" on Tuesday when he lost three minutes to the yellow jersey favourites, Evans hinted that all might not be as fine as he is making out.
"For the first time in my Tour de France career I had to spit out half a litre of phlegm, after that I got back in the leader group, but I was right at the back. There was not a lot I could do," he added.
"On the mental side of things, that doesn't give you the morale you need to ride the Tour de France. I am not used to being at the back; it's not a place I expect to be."
At over 37 minutes off the pace, even a phenomenal ride in Thursday's 40.5km time trial around Annecy would fail to soothe Evans' pain.
It is there that the Schlecks will find out their potential for a podium place after they moved up to second and third respectively at 2:26 and 3:25 behind Contador.
The Spaniard's decision to race with the Schlecks, then drop Astana teammate Andreas Kloden, meant he defied team orders that could have had him, Armstrong and Kloden in first, second and third places.
Armstrong and Contador's relationship was strained before the start of the Tour as Armstrong waged a psychological war to test the Spaniard's leadership of the team.
Now, the Spaniard is lucky he has nearly a four-minute lead on the American.
Astana team manager Johan Bruyneel, who is close to Armstrong, insisted he told Contador to let the Schleck brothers go off on their own to allow Kloden and Armstrong a chance to finish in the general classifications' top three.
Armstrong admitted after the stage he had to "bite his tongue" on the issue.
"The attack from Contador three kilometres from the top was against my advice," added the Belgian.
"I told him not to go, he didn't need to attack, because the two Schlecks would go full gas to the finish.
"I said to him: 'You don't have to attack to win the Tour de France today'.
"So it was a pity Andreas couldn't hold on because we could have been first, second and third today in general classification, but now we are first, fourth and fifth."
While the Schlecks will find out on Thursday how much work can be expected of them in the penultimate stage on Saturday, which climbs to the summit of Mont Ventoux, Armstrong is confident he can finish in second place.
"Second is still my goal, I guess it's still possible," said Armstrong.
"If I don't win it's not the end of the world, but of course I would like to be on the podium in Paris."
"I just need to work hard at the time trial to make up for the time I lost today," he said.
"I don't want to chase it, but I have no choice."
AFP / Expatica