LIEGE, Belgium: Cadel Evans thinks one Tour de France title will make it easier to win another one. And he’s ready to add that second championship right now.
Evans opens his title defense when the 99th edition of cycling’s marquee race begins today with a quick, 4-mile prologue in Liege, Belgium — an individual time trial expected to be dominated by specialists such as Fabien Cancellara of Switzerland and Tony Martin of Germany, or contender Bradley Wiggins of Britain.
The beginning of the Tour offers the cycling world a welcome return to racing after the sport’s doping ghosts returned this month, with charges by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency that Lance Armstrong used performance-enhancing drugs en route to his seven Tour victories. He denies doping and notes he has never failed a drug test.
For a race covering 2,100 miles over three weeks, the prologue is just the very beginning for the rider who will cycle down Paris’ Champs-Elysees in the yellow jersey on July 22 — but it could provide an early indication about who won’t be in front at the end. Evans was already playing down expectations about how he might fare in it.
“It starts tomorrow on a stage that isn’t so suited to me,” the BMC team leader said Friday. “But from here on in, it’s all systems go, and I’m looking forward to getting another Tour started.”
Evans says he has a “similar mentality” to his winning approach last year. But this year’s route goes heavier on time trials — with more than 60 miles total in individual races against the clock — and lighter on steep mountain climbs than the most recent Tours.
“Knowing that we have already won one, it makes it quite a little bit easier,” Evans said. “When you’ve won one — in the bag — it’s there. ... It makes it a whole lot easier. You don’t have this question of doubt: ‘Maybe I can win it, maybe I can’t?’ We know we can.”
He acknowledged that race connoisseurs are predicting a two-man showdown between Evans and Wiggins, a three-time Olympic track gold medalist who has converted to road races and worked hard to improve in the mountains that are often crucial to winning the Tour.
“They tell me that Wiggins is the man to beat, so they say, but we’ll see it on the roads,” Evans said. “Three weeks on the road is a long time, and a lot can happen.”
Wiggins is off to a terrific start this season, winning the Criterium du Dauphine, the Tour de Romandie and Paris-Nice stage races this year. Evans, by comparison, admitted he has been off to a “bit of a quiet start” to 2012, with just one victory in the three-stage Criterium International — but is progressing and hopes to peak for the Tour.
Wiggins wants to become the first Briton to reach the Tour podium, and possibly take home yellow — and with the London Olympics ahead next month, is doubly motivated.
“I can’t wait to get down that ramp and put down into practice all these months of training,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been this good: All this stuff we’ve been doing this week suggests that I am in the form of my life.”
The crop of likely contenders has thinned in recent months. Alberto Contador was suspended from racing until August and stripped of his 2010 Tour title for doping in that race. Andy Schleck — who inherited the Spaniard’s title after placing second that year — is out with a spinal injury.