Former winner a shadow of the dominant rider of two years ago.
Two years ago Cadel Evans was preparing for the time trial that would change his life and, after two runner-up places, crown him Australia’s first ever Tour de France champion.
On the eve of the final mountain stage of the 100th Tour de France, Evans was heading for his worst ever finish at the race as Kenyan-born Briton Chris Froome began to imagine standing on the top step of the podium in Paris.
Tipped as one of the men to challenge Team Sky leader Froome, Evans’ campaign started in average fashion and did not get any easier in a second week by which time the former world champion was well out of the running for a podium place.
By the time he started the third week, the BMC team leader was already 6:54 off a pace which, to be fair, none of Froome’s rivals have managed to match.
Froome’s own campaign has been boosted by the formidable pace-setting of Tasmanian climbing specialist Richie Porte, whose performances have reinforced opinions that he could be Australia’s next yellow jersey champion.
Evans, meanwhile, is now 36th overall at 1hr 13min behind Froome. Although there is a mountaintop finish on Saturday’s 20th and penultimate stage, he says he is focused solely on reaching Paris on Sunday.
“I don’t expect any miracles and really I’ve come into this third week exhausted. At this point, I just hope I can finish and get to Paris,” said the 2011 champion.
With five climbs on the menu, including the mighty Glandon and Madeleine from the start, Friday’s 19th stage was always going to be a challenge for the majority of the peloton.
Several teams had riders warming up on their turbo machines prior to the race but an already exhausted Evans did not even consider trying to make the early breakaway.
He quickly found himself among the early strugglers, and in the company of Aussie veteran Stuart O’Grady and the rest of the ‘grupetto’ which bands together in a bid to finish before the allotted cut-off time.
As Porte’s Sky team allowed a large breakaway to go up the road, and then controlled some soft attacks by Alberto Contador’s Saxo team to defend Froome’s 5min 11sec lead on the Spaniard, Evans spent the day climbing, descending and chatting to Orica-GreenEdge’s elder statesmen.
“I started tired and it was not a good day to start tired or exhausted,” added Evans.
“I found my rhythm with Stuart O’Grady actually, which was good company for a not so pleasant day. We rode all the way to the finish together in what was a group of 30 or so riders.
“It was very long and tiring, and of course certainly not the group I wanted to be finishing this kind of stage in.”
Evans admitted several days ago that his unplanned participation in the Giro d’Italia, where he finished third overall, had compromised his chances of a top finish at the Tour de France.
Now, he is not even enjoying the race.
“I came to the race to compete and to perform well, and obviously at the moment I’m not performing well, so in rational terms it’s not very enjoyable,” he said.
Questions may now be asked over Evans’ future as a Grand Tour rider, but until then Australian cycling fans will find comfort and excitement in Porte.
On Friday the Paris-Nice champion broke race rules, incurring a 20sec penalty, to race back to his team car for sugar-rich power gels for Froome as his leader suffered hypoglycemia.
A day later, Porte led Froome over the finish having repelled, as he has mostly done throughout the race, all efforts by rivals to loosen Froome’s grip.
Saturday’s 20th stage is the final day in the mountains, and Porte said: “I’d love to see Chris Froome win the Tour and we’re one day away from that so we’re not going to be complacent.
“But we are looking forward to finishing it off tomorrow.”