Thursday, 19 July 2012
A stomach bug, a brutal stage through the Pyrenees and unrelenting opposition have combined to fracture Cadel Evans' Tour de France defence.
With four stages left, Evans' Tour is now a salvage operation after he dropped from fourth to seventh overall.
He finished an exhausted 35th in stage 16 from Pau to Bagneres-de-Luchon, a day that featured some of the Tour's most iconic climbs and a temperature into the 30s.
Evans was able to stay with race leader Brad Wiggins over the Col d'Aubisque and the Col du Tourmalet but he wilted on the Col d'Aspin and his rivals put him to the sword on the Col de Peyresourde.
The Australian finished 11 minutes and 56 seconds behind a brilliant winning ride from French rider Thomas Voeckler.
But the real damage was the 4:47 he lost to race leader Brad Wiggins, who was 12th on the stage.
That blew Evans' overall margin out from 3:19 to 8:06.
Evans thought he could cope with stomach troubles that hit him a couple of hours before the start but by the Peyresourde he was cooked.
"Obviously that's not my normal level," he said.
"Pretty much the Tour de France is over for me."
Evans first lost touch with Wiggins' group on the Aspin, but his BMC team-mates helped him rally and he rejoined the yellow jersey.
When he lost touch with Wiggins early on the Peyresourde there was no coming back.
Wiggins' Sky team had set the pace for most of the Tour, but now it was Vincenzo Nibali and Liquigas-Cannondale who were doing a lot of the damage.
Nibali is third overall and he put as much distance between himself and Evans as possible before Saturday's time trial, where the Australian should have the advantage.
Only Wiggins and teammate Chris Froome, who is second overall, were able to respond when Nibali repeatedly attacked on the Peyresourde.
The trio finished together, with Nibali in 11th, and that will be the Tour podium.
It was indicative of the day Evans was having that BMC were forced into damage control once he started losing touch.
While the rest of the team worked for Evans, young rider category leader Tejay van Garderen was told to stay with the Wiggins group and not drop back for his leader.
Van Garderen finished the stage 15th and nothing summed up Evans' plight better than the American going one place above him overall.
It remains to be seen how BMC handle the rest of this Tour.
As Evans crossed the line he reached over and thanked star teammate George Hincapie, who will retire at the end of the season.
"You have to be optimistic, but also you have to be realistic," Evans said.
"Obviously this year things haven't been coming together, the year's not over.
"But certainly the retirement present I wanted to give to George Hincapie this year, the hope and wish for that is over."