Evans on fire as Vino crumbles on Tour

18th July 2007, Comments 0 comments

BRIANCON, France, July 18, 2007 (AFP) - Another dramatic day of racing in the thin air of the French Alps left Cadel Evans gasping for breath, but inching closer to the Tour de France yellow jersey on Tuesday.

BRIANCON, France, July 18, 2007 (AFP) - Another dramatic day of racing in the thin air of the French Alps left Cadel Evans gasping for breath, but inching closer to the Tour de France yellow jersey on Tuesday.

Colombia's Mauricio Soler, of Barloworld, claimed a well-deserved victory  on the ninth stage, a 159.5km run from Val d'Isere to here which included the first two unclassified-graded climbs of the race.

Evans finished third after being outsprinted on the uphill finish by Spanish rival Alejandro Valverde, but this was arguably his best ever performance on a Tour stage.

"I actually wanted to sit up and recover and give Valverde a run for his money up there, but it wasn't to be," said Evans.

"He always seems to have one or two more teammates than I do in the final and a faster sprint."

Ahead of three days of racing which should see a lull in the battle for the race's main prize, the 30-year-old Australian sits fourth overall at 2:41 behind Michael Rasmussen.

The skinny Dane retained the leader's yellow jersey with another solid performance which has virtually made him Rabobank's new title contender after Russian Denis Menchov trailed in over four minutes adrift to sit 18th overall at 7:10 behind the Danish two-time winner of the race's polka dot jersey.

"My objective is to defend the yellow jersey for as long as possible. Why not all the way to Paris?" said a bullish Rasmussen.

A handful of riders, including Evans, Valverde and Germany's Andreas Kloden, will be doing everything in Saturday's first time trial, in Albi, to make sure his time in yellow comes to an end.

On the day Alexandre Vinokourov's yellow jersey hopes suffered a crushing blow on the legendary Galibier climb, Evans showed a rare glimpse of the grit which is needed to make the difference on the race's steep gradients.

As Soler went off on his own towards an eventual first stage win on his race debut, Evans was the only rider from a bunch containing all the favourites - except for Vinokourov - to respond to an attack by Alberto Contador.

After catching the Spanish climber 300 metres further on, another turn of pace by the precocious Discovery Channel rider left Evans struggling to follow.

"For me he was one of the strongest guys, especially on the steeper climbs. He's one to watch," said Evans.

"When he went (again) I tried to stay with him, but I couldn't. He's very mature for his age."

Contador then joined Ukrainian teammate Yaroslav Popovych at the Galibier summit, with Evans following around 25secs later.

Despite valiant efforts on the winding descent, he failed to bridge the gap and was eventually caught by the group he had left earlier in order to counter Contador's jump.

After a few tactical skirmishes on the final 20km of the race, a group of around 15 riders formed in the pursuit of Soler, who claimed a well-deserved win with a 38-sec cushion.

On the uphill climb to the finish, Evans meanwhile put in a late burst which surprised everyone, except for Valverde, who came over the finish to take a few extra bonus seconds.

Vinokourov, who began the Tour as the main favourite, finished nearly three minutes later as Kloden, a runner-up in 2004 and a third place finisher last year, took virtual leadership of their Astana team.

Kloden assumed the role well, finishing the stage just 46sec behind Soler, and just seconds behind a few of his yellow jersey rivals to sit eighth overall at 3:50.

Vinokourov, perhaps riding his last Tour and still fighting the pain of knee injuries from a crash on the fifth stage, was visibly distraught.

"On the Telegraphe (climb) I held on okay, but it was a different story on the Galibier. I was in pain all over," said Vinokourov who now has at least a five-minute deficit to a handful of his rivals.

"I did what I could to stay with the contenders, and the team are working as hard as possible but it was another hard day for me."

But Evans, who believes Saturday's time trial will cream off another few contenders, refuses to rule 'Vino' out.

"I still won't discount him," he said.

Gasping for breath, but buoyed by the hundreds of Aussie flags he has seen, Evans added: "I'm getting over the passes every day, and everything is going as I planned. But I set pretty hard standards for myself, so to follow my plan isn't so bad. 

"Going into second half of Tour, we're so closely matched in the mountains that it's good for everyone watching, but it's a bit anxious for us.

"I think it's just starting up. We've only seen the real selections being made, and no matter what people are saying now the truth's really coming out and it's still a long way to Paris."

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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