Evans back in yellow for the first time since 2008 and first World Champion to wear Yellow since Boonen in 2006
After a solid ride to finish in the group of favorites 10 seconds behind the hard charging duo of Andy Schleck and Sammy Sanchez, World Champion Cadel Evans moved himself back to a position he has known before: the top of the general classification at the Tour de France. Evans last wore the Tour de France's Maillot Jaune in Stage 14 of the 2008 Tour de France. He relinquished the Yellow Jersey at the end of that day, and would eventually finish the race second overall behind Saxo Bank's Carlos Sastre.
Ahead of the stage, the expectation was that Evans would take the yellow jersey barring any bizarre occurrences. Evans was reluctant to count himself into the Maillot Jaune ahead of the stage: "It's the Tour de France - anything can and will happen. Theoretically, it puts us in a really good position, but also, it puts some others in more aggressive position. I'm interested to see what RadioShack and Astana do, maybe see some aggressivity on the Col de la Ramaz and so on. We'll see what happens. Of course, for me personally, it's a good position to be in, but we'll see after today."
Only a few minutes later, and Evans's misgivings about dreaming of yellow at the end of the day proved true. The World Champion hit the ground hard six kilometers into the stage.
"When I first fell, I didn't even know if I could keep going. The first thing I thought about was the doctor, not the jersey. I just had no time to react. I came down hard on my left side, my arm was especially hit hard. Fortunately, my legs were not affected. It did make the day a bit harder though."
With his sixth place finish on the day's stage, Evans became the first world champion to wear the Yellow Jersey since Tom Boonen in 2006. After the stage, Sporza asked Evans if he was happy to be in yellow, or if this was in a way a "poisoned gift," as in, would the obligations at the head of affairs outweigh the positive nature of being ahead of everyone else. Evans was quick to bat the suggestion away: "At this point, an advantage over Contador… It is always better to have time on Contador than to not have time. We have a good team to ride until at least the Pyrenees. We'll see how we get on until then."
Taking a look back at the stage, Evans was satisfied with his effort, and looking to the number one favorite, Alberto Contador, Evans reflects on a little history between the two: "Schleck drove hard towards the end, but I had to stay back. It was not an easy stage, and the wind made it difficult to assess things in the finale, but now I'm in a good position. I have a head start on Contador, and if you look at our history, it's a good thing to have." Evans is referring, of course, to the closest Tour de France of all time, which was battled out between Contador, Evans, and Leipheimer in 2007, with all finishing within a minute of each other on the final podium in Paris. Evans started the day just 50 seconds behind Contador. He took 27 seconds out of Contador in the final 55 km time trial from Cognac to Angouleme, but he came up 23 seconds short of overall victory. Currently, Evans holds a 61 second cushion over the four-time Grand Tour winner, not an insignificant amount of time.
There was some question during the final climb why there was so little aggression from the favorites. The ascent to Morzine-Avoriaz averaged only 6%, but any uphill rise would seem a jumping off point for possible overall glory. Evans explains the situation: "There was quite a lot of wind on the final climb, so it was not conducive to attack. Andy attacked at the right time, and I congratulate him on his victory."
Evans continues, "For me personally, it put me in a good position with Astana setting tempo. Andy showed that he's climbing very well, maybe amongst the very best in the Tour de France. Samuel Sanchez isn't bad as well! Overall, I'm happy with the way the day went. I had a crash, a pretty bad crash, in the first six kilometers of the stage. Just to be there at the finish is one thing, to be there at the finish to take the yellow jersey is quite something else again."
Apart from his early crash, the World Champion was pleased with how the stage developed and took a certain amount of satisfaction in seeing seven-time Tour de France winner, Lance Armstrong, taken out of the equation.
"When Armstrong was dropped, Contador and his team did their best to ride him as far out of the general classification as possible. The way Astana drove the pace put us all in a very good starting position. This is one of the reasons why we prepared so meticulously for the day on the pave, because in the end, it meant I got a little time on Contador, which we must do, whenever possible."
This year's winner at the midweek Ardennes Classic, La Fleche Wallonne, gave a tip of the hat to his upstart to BMC Team: "This yellow is a nice reward for my team who have worked hard for days." In particular, Steve Morabito impressed the two-time Tour de France overall runner-up: "Steve Morabito rode really well. He knows the area because he lives here, and he came out of the Tour de Suisse in good shape. I get along really well with everyone on the team - all the mechanics, soigneurs, the other riders - it has been a pleasure working with them. They have all cared for me very well, and now we are here - at the head of the Tour de France."
Evans can look forward to a well-deserved rest day tomorrow in Morzine, and can hopefully lick his wounds and prepare for the upcoming rigors remaining in the Alps. Evans and his team will be put to the test over the remaining two Alpine stages.