Cadel Evans and Spanish nemesis Alberto Contador emerged as the big favorites for the 2012 Tour de France yellow jersey after the race route was unveiled here Tuesday. Evans, a former two-time runner-up, ended Australia’s long wait for victory on the world’s premier bike race when he won the 98th edition in July. The BMC team leader’s success, during what was considered a largely clean race, with only one doping positive, has met with the approval of organizers who, on Tuesday, were quick to pay tribute to the Australian. 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 favor 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,” added Prudhomme. “We need to give chances to other kinds of riders, to favor 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 57-seconds deficit to climbing specialist Andy Schleck of Luxembourg 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 cleared, and be a threat.
“It’s not a bad route for Alberto,” said the Dane. “More time trials, some new climbs, it’s good… When the gradient (of the climbs) goes past 10 percent, it’s another thing altogether.”
Evans’s manager at BMC, John Lelangue, said their planning and execution will be just as carefully managed as it was in 2011.
“The route is not as easy as some might think,” said the Belgian. “We’re going there to defend the title and we’ll approach it just as we have in the past two years, concentrating on challenges day by day. Seeing this route, we’re confident and we have a team ready to support Cadel.”
While 2012 does not appear to smile on three-time runner-up Schleck or his brother Frank, Evans still has a formidable obstacle if he is to double up. Riis added: “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.”