Australian rider cracks on Col de la Madeleine, loses eight minutes
Far from being a triumphant procession, Cadel Evans' first day in the yellow jersey of the Tour de France saw the rider finish over eight minutes back, crossing the line in tears and dropping to eighteenth overall.
Unbeknownst to all bar his BMC Racing team, the Australian started the stage with a broken elbowsustained in the stage eight crash. That plus the various aches and bruises from his fall meant that he was running below his usual level, and with 40 kilometres to go he slid to the back of the group on the Col de la Madeleine, then lost contact.
Alberto Contador (Astana) and Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) surged clear soon afterwards and started making inroads into the lead of a breakaway group up front. They eventually caught this group and finished together, crossing the line just behind stage winner Sandy Casar (Française des Jeux), while Evans came in eight minutes and nine seconds back in 42nd place.
He was highly emotional and was comforted by team-mate Mauro Santambrogio for some time, then sat down looking thoroughly devastated. Soon afterwards the team disclosed the arm fracture, explaining that it didn’t want to let the news go out while he was in the race lead.
"We decided not to tell anybody about it and try and fake it through the race," said team president Jim Ochowicz. "We didn't want to let our competitors know and have them attacking him during the race on the early climbs. We weren't sure what the outcome was going to be. He doesn't have full mobility in his elbow, so he had difficulty staying with the group. At the end, the injury just overwhelmed him."
Evans was convinced that the injuries placed a big part. "I wasn't at the same level as I was on Stage 8," he said. "I had a big crash at the start of that day and I'm really paying for the consequences from that. I suffer on my bike every day but I do it with pleasure. The guys and the team have supported me and believed in me in this whole project. I'm so sorry to have let them all down."
He also posted a poignant message on his Twitter account, which was a little hard on himself, given the circumstances.
“Is it Fine Young Cannibals that sing "human beings are unreliable things"? Thanks to everyone who supported me today, even if I sucked.”
That resulted in a cascade of well-wishes from fans, many of them praising his tenacity to make it to the finish.
Evans would be forgiven if he headed home, both because of the injury and also the disappointment of second his second-consecutive Tour de France victory bid derailed because of physical problems. However team doctor Max Testa said that he would continue unless there was a risk of permanent damage. “Cadel is a super tough guy, so he managed very well,” he said. “He did as much as any human could do.”
This year’s Tour de France has been marked by a very high number of crashes, including incidents involving Evans, Frank Schleck, Robbie McEwen, Vladimir Karpets, Lance Armstrong and others.