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Critérium du Dauphiné: Cadel Evans, Feeling Feisty

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Daffe_medium Cadel Evans of BMC Racing Team won today's opening road stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné. Feisty, this Cadel Evans. On paper, it looked like a day for the sprinters, but Evans saw an opportunity and seized it. His reward was a stage victory, his first road stage victory at the Critérium du Dauphiné and second in the general classification. Bradley Wiggins of Team Sky currently leads by one second.

As the day's early breakaway was caught on the final descent to the line, Jérôme Coppel Saur-Sojasun attacked with four kilometers left to race and Evans proved quick to join the move. Andrey Kashechkin of Astana also decided he wanted to play. The three riders passed under the red kite with the main field hard on their heels. Evans won the three-up sprint to take the stage victory ahead of Coppel and Kashechkin. Just four seconds later, Nacer Bouhanni of Français des Jeux-BigMat won the sprint for fourth.

The stage also reshuffled the overall standings to the advantage of Bradley Wiggins. Luke Durbridge of Orica-GreenEdge, who won the opening prologue, suffered on the Côte de la Sizeranne, the final climb of the day, and never made it back to the main field. Bradley Wiggins, second in the prologue by one second, took over the race lead from Durbridge. Evans now sits one second behind Wiggins. The pre-race favorites are, in the main, still within 15 seconds of the race lead.

The Critérium du Dauphiné serves as a final test for the riders hoping to race well at the Tour de France in July. It also serves as fuel for endless speculation about their chances. Since the announcement of the Tour course last fall, Evans and Wiggins have ranked as the principal favorites. With its two long time trials, this year's Tour looks to favor riders like Evans and Wiggins who can ride well against the watch.

If the Critérium du Dauphiné is anything to go by, Wiggins and Evans look to be hitting their best form at exactly the right moment, and they current top the general classification standings. Evans won today's stage in the style that he showed during last year's Tour victory — opportunist and attacking. During the 2011 Tour, Evans won a stage in the first week by attacking on the Côte du Bretagne. Much the same kind of riding won Evans the stage today.

For Andy Schleck, meanwhile, the road to the Tour so far has not run especially smoothly. He dropped over three minutes on today's stage. Team polemica between Schleck and his brother Fränk and team manager Johan Bruyneel has fed speculations of disaster in the making. Fränk Schleck abandoned the Giro d'Italia in May, leading to public criticisms from Bruyneel. Things appear to have gone downhill from there.

Though Andy Schleck has improved his time trial skill steadily, most observers expect him to struggle with the nearly 100 kilometers of time trial racing at this year's Tour. And, even when the Tour heads to the mountains, the majority of the stages end with a descent to the line, which will also do Schleck no favors. Still, any number of riders have ridden against expectations in July. And, any number of riders have done a mediocre race at the Critérium du Dauphiné and turned things around at the big show in July.

But that's all for the future. Tomorrow's stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné runs from Lamastre to Saint-Félicien. The race heads into the Ardéche region tomorrow, and the stage is all up and down with six categorized climbs. It's a good day to head out with the early breakaway for a rider hungry for mountains points. There's a short uphill punch to the line to finish things off. It's a good stage for the opportunists and the attacking riders to cause a little mayhem.