How to do it with so much of the race left to go. But there it is: the pre-race favorite is even more of a favorite right now it seems.
In some ways Cadel Evans' task after this first time trial has similarities to Alberto Contador's task after the first Giro time trial:
- Both Evans and Bert had rivals that could potentially equal them in the remaining time trials but there were no riders who were/are superior.
-Similarly while neither Cadel nor the Giro Bert were the best climbers in their races, they are/were good enough to stay with most of their rivals' attacks.
In other words, Cadel's strategy to close out this Tour could be likened to Contador's winning strategy in the Giro: stay close on the mountains and kill 'em in the chrono. It may yet play out that way but to my mind Evans has a harder task than Contador in making that strategy stick and for several reasons:
1) Bert's 1st TT didn't happen until day 10; there were only 11 stages yet to play out with two more time trials(one a mountain TT), one hilly stage, and five mountain stages. Cadel of course has just finished only stage four; he still has 16 stages to go (I'm not counting the last ceremonial stage) with only one time trial, two hilly stages, and five mountain stages. Yes they have the same number of mountain stages. The important things here however are that 1) there's much more milage still to come in the Tour and 2) there's only one TT left for Cadel even though its a long one. More stages mean more chances for Evans' rivals to attack him.
2) Contador had a much stronger team. Obvious, ain't it? Even with Kloden and Leipheimer not at the top of their form Contador had all kinds of help. By contrast we should expect to see Evans isolated every day the road turns up, even in the hills as he has almost no support.
The problem about the Popo for Horner "trade" that *Lotto did was not just that Popo's temperament seems different than Evans' is that Evans needs BOTH Popo and Horner. To illustrate this better look at Astana's performance in the Giro or Disco's performance in last year's Tour. Both teams had not only multiple riders who could climb but those riders had different temperaments and different strengths on how to climb those mountains. Bert not only had more matches but the matches burned in different ways that could be brought to bear on different stages and hills. Colom rides differently than Kloden, who is different than Leipheimer, who is different than Gusev, etc. Last year Popo had a unique personality that fit Disco perfectly to the tune of an 8th place GC finish.
Last year also Evans had little support but the support he had, Horner, at least was of similar temperament to Evans: slow, steady, relentless. Popo is too electric, too variable for Evans IMO. Evans' chances would be much greater if he had both Horner and Popovych to provide different types of support. Instead he only has the wort option of the two. I can only imagine Devolder being a poorer fit for Evans' super domestique.
3) Evans' rivals are much closer to him than Contador's rivals ever were.
Within two minutes of Evans right now are Kirchen (actually ahead by 12 seconds), Vandevelde (- 12), Nibali (- 37), Menchov (-51), Devolder (-57), Monfort (-1:02), Cunego (-1:04), Valverde (-1:06), A Schleck (-1:08), Sanchez (-1:10), Bruseghin (-1:20), Astarloza (-1:21) and Sastre (-1:22).
By contrast after stage 10, Contador faced these GC rivals: Bruseghin (-54), teammate Kloden (-56), Nibali (-1:05), Savoldelli (-1:10), Ricco (-1:31), Di Luca (-1:32), Menchov (-1:58), Simoni & Leipheimer (-2:11), Pellizotti (-2:16), Van Den Broeck (-2:42) and Sella (-2:43).
Clearly Contador had more of a working margin. He had a cushion that Evans can only dream of. From stage 14 on (the 1st mountain stage in the Giro there were only 10 riders at the end of any give stage combined who were ever less than 1 minute behind Contador and seven of those were Ricco after each stage. Hopefully that last sentence made sense but it means that only Ricco seriously threatened Contador after stage 10. Now can you truly imagine all of Evans' rivals falling away like that? 'Course not. He already has 5 riders within a minute.
I know that many of you right now are thinking, "so-and-so has no chance against Evans! Why even include him in this discussion?" Well stop jumping to those conclusions and remember how the Giro played out after stage 10. Riders who we thought were money to be on the platform weren't while others faded away. No one could cover Sella; no one here at Podium Cafe expected Sella to break out like he did. What if the 12th placed Tour guy I've listed here goes Sella on the Tour field? That would be Astarloza who is over a minute and 20 seconds closer to Evans than Sella was to Contador. Okay you don't like Astarloza? Then take Sastre only 1 second behind Astarloza- he is definitely capable of going Sella on the field.
And that's the thing. We all expect all of these riders to have a bad day in the mountains. But I think we have that backwards and how we should be thinking of this is like this: There are 13 really good riders very close to Evans on time and the odds say that at least one of them is gonna not only not crack in the mountains on any stage but do quite well. Probably two. We have no idea who but if you look at those Giro contenders and saw how they played out you can;t eliminate any of those 13 yet. Sure we can find reasons to eliminate all of the Tour contenders but the odds are that 1-2 of them will beat our rationalizations.
4) Contador's biggest rivals were poor in the chrono. Ricco. Di Luca. Sella. 'Nuff said. The same can't be said for all of Evans' rivals.
5) No one is gonna help the favorite. What we saw in the Dolphin race with Leipheimer not helping Evans we will see again in this Tour unless Evans truly falls behind.
I am not saying that Evans will lose. I think he's still the fave. He's so solid. He's just not the cast-iron fave that he seems right now because he's gonna be under pressure from all angles. He doesn't have the team to cover many breakaways and he's still got most of the race to go. In some ways his position reminds me of Landis in 06 where Landis had to give up the lead as he didn't have the team who could protect it. The question then is: can Evans get the lead back (or I should say get it for the first time since Kirchen is ahead of him)?
We don't know yet who his main rivals will be (although we all have guesses). The point here is that he does have rivals and that his race to win is a lot more uncomfortable than Contador's was in the Giro. That means that this Tour is wide open still.