Cadel Evans and Spanish nemesis Alberto Contador emerged as the big favourites for the 2012 Tour de France yellow jersey after the race route was unveiled here Tuesday.
Evans, the 2011 winner and two-time runner-up was praised by the organisers of the Tour on Tuesday. But despite nearly 100 km of time trials and fewer stages in the high mountains, Tour chief Christian Prudhomme stopped short of saying he had Evans in mind when the 99th edition was created.
“This route will inspire many different kinds of riders,” Prudhomme said after its unveiling in the presence of Evans, Contador and a few dozen other top stars of the peloton. For the climbers there will be chances to really go for it in five, six or seven stages and not just in the Pyrenees or Alps.”
As for the increase in time trials, which on paper favour Evans?
“In a lot of races we’ve seen them disappear a bit, even more so in the Tour de France. But I think they’re on their way back. We need to give chances to other kinds of riders, to favour the more complete riders over the climbers. But the climbing specialists will still get their chance to shine on the steep ramps which feature on around half a dozen stages. With percentages like those, they won’t have any reason not to go on the attack.”
On paper, Evans should be in his element. Although a strong climber, he has often been left exposed against better equipped teams for the long ascents of the Alps and Pyrenees. Next year, the climbs are shorter but punchier. Evans’ skills in the race against the clock meanwhile are under no doubt. In the penultimate stage of this year’s race he overcame a 57sec deficit to climbing specialist Andy Schleck to cruise to overall victory.
Contador, who endured a crash-marred campaign in July, believes Evans will be the man to beat. “It’s a course for Evans,” said Contador, arguably a stronger climber than Evans and a close rival in the time trial.
Contador’s presence, however, will be determined by the result of a November doping hearing before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and world cycling’s governing body the UCI are appealing against a Spanish cycling federation (RFEC) decision to acquit Contador over a failed doping test following his third Tour triumph in 2010.
Listening to his team boss at Saxo Bank, former champion Bjarne Riis, the Spaniard will be a threat.
“It’s not a bad route for Alberto. More time trials, some new climbs, it’s good … When the gradient (of the climbs) goes past 10 percent, it’s another thing altogether. It’s a good route for Cadel Evans, and it should be an interesting race in which the Schleck brothers will be forced to attack. Alberto has won three Tour de France already, and he’s got what it takes to win a fourth.”