MACON, France (AFP) –
For defending champion Cadel Evans, the first ‘hors categorie’ climb of this year’s Tour de France could not come at a better time.
Two days after losing nearly two minutes to British rival Bradley Wiggins in the ninth stage time trial, it is the Australian’s first chance to start his campaign to win back the yellow jersey.
Stage 10 is the first of two consecutive days in the high Alps and the ascent of the Col du Grand Colombier comes a day after the Tour’s first rest day.
Included recently on the Criterium du Dauphine stage race won by Wiggins, it is expected to be a decisive feature on the 194.5 km ride from Macon to Bellegarde-sur-Valserine Wednesday.
The 17.5 km climb to the summit — so difficult it does not have a category — comes after the relatively short, category-two Cote de Corlier. After a 13 km descent, the peloton will tackle the 7km climb to the category-three summit of the Col de Richemond.
A near 20 km descent will take the peloton towards the finish, meaning there will be no classic summit finish battle between the big climbers in the peloton.
That means Evans, and fellow challengers like Italian Vincenzo Nibali will have to adapt their strategy.
Wiggins is prepared for most eventualities.
“After the rest day it will be a whole different ball game,” he said. “And anything can happen, a bad day or a crash, so let’s just take it a day at a time.”
As well as possessing strong climbing skills Nibali is a renowned downhiller and with Evans, and several others, could decide to launch offensives against Sky on any of the stage’s three climbs.
Race course designer Jean-Francois Pescheux believes the Col du Grand Colombier, whose descent is technical and dangerous, could be a game-changer.
“If you ask me it’s the toughest mountain in France, with sections at 12 percent (gradient),” said the Frenchman.
“Nevertheless, its location 43 km from the finish line changes everything. Rather than a single devastating attack, I see a group of five or six strong riders break away and then come together before the finish.”
Evans, who lost 1min 43sec to Wiggins in the ninth stage time trial, is now second overall behind Wiggins at 1:53 with Britain’s Chris Froome, also of Sky, a further 14secs adrift.
“It hasn’t been optimal so far, 1:53 down is not the best position to be in,” said Evans.
“But we’ll reassess the situation day by day and we don’t give up, that’s for sure, we don’t give up.”
Liquigas rider Nibali, the 2010 Tour of Spain champion, is fourth at 2:23 while former Tour of Spain and Tour of Italy champion Denis Menchov is fifth at 3:02.