Evans Steals Fleche-Wallonne

If you’ve raced bicycles before then you’ve probably had the experience of multiple near misses at a race before scoring the big V. In this, you have something in common with Cadel Evans. Gloat now. Right now. You, I and the rest of the mortal world won’t get too many chances to share something in common with the current World Champion beyond such basics as peeing standing up (apologies to the women readers). With three top-10 finishes to his credit he knew how the final kilometer could go wrong even for the very strongest of riders.

Patience isn’t a word that anyone ever uses in conjunction with a Spring Classic. Appropriate tags for a Spring Classic are ‘attack,’ ‘limit,’ ‘suffer,’ ‘blow up’ and ‘head down.’ And that’s where Evans’ tactical savvy and experience paid off for him today.

And while not much has been said, Chris Horner delivered another great ride to finish seventh, the second-best performance by an American at the race. Not bad for 38.

There were a number of riders who looked strong, strong enough to win the day. And that Caisse d’Epargne didn’t take the day was perhaps a bit of a surprise for them.

Valverde rode like it ought to be his race. Unfortunately, he was the only person thinking that.

Evans has often been criticized for not riding aggressively enough to win more races. And maybe he has lacked the killer instinct at times. The 2010 Fleche-Wallonne begs a question.

Did winning a World Championship actually teach Evans an important lesson about how to win? Even though the most common criticism is that he never seemed to attack, the great secret of Fleche-Wallonne is to wait to attack, to wait until you would have lost any other race. Just ask Alberto Contador.

With 500 meters to go Contador looked to have it in the bag. Unfortunately, our TVs are still not equipped with Sony’s patented “Lactic-acid-ometer” to show us just how close to blowing a rider really is. Of course, the difference between insanely hard and completely done is about four watts.

The images are in sequence and encompass only the final trip up the Mur de Huy. It’s amazing to watch how short a distance Evans needs to close the gap to Contador and Igor Anton, all the while holding off Joaquim Rodriguez.

Alternate theory: Evans is still getting it wrong, but now he’s just getting the curse of the rainbow jersey wrong and he’s winning instead of losing. Imagine the shock Contador experienced when he noticed the rider passing him was Evans.

Images: John Pierce, Photosport International.

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  1. SinglespeedJarv

    A truely great ride. But think on this; when was the last time the defending Tour champion (and greatest stage-race rider of his generation) battled for the win with the reigning World Champion (who is also a Tour contender) in any one-day race, let alone a classic?

    I think it was possibly back in the early 90’s when Bugno was World Champion, but either way we’re going back a long way. I’d say that this year’s Fleche showcased everything that is great about procycling and is about as far removed from the separatist (the only one-day race thou shallt ride is the worlds) days of Armstrong and Ullrich as is possible.

  2. todd k

    Padgraig: Good theory and I wouldn’t be surprised if Cadel got it wrong. For sure I think the WC jersey has given him some wings. For whatever reason I like Cadel as a BMC rider more than I did when he was a Lotto rider. I do think it a bit ironic with as many classic riders they signed, they are having the most success with their GC candidate this spring.

    SinglspeedJarv: I was just going to serve up the same comment. I liked what I saw in the post race commentary. No one was cloaking their dissappointment of coming up short with some blather about the race only being prep for the Tour. It was nice to see folks coming out swinging and giving the race the respect it deserves rather than hiding behind the other objectives.

  3. Souleur

    SinglespeedJarv is right. This is one thing that I admire about Contador this go around, he is racing spring classics and being more involved with other races than just TdF. That really rounds out cycling, shows the world the significance of these other races and it was great to see Contador and Evans go toe to toe on the Mur de Huy.

    Padraig offers an interesting theory. I will have to think about that one, its truly interesting and a deep dynamic there. I will reply later on it.

    My theory is this, much simpler. He has a team now. Not surrounding a sprinter, not with other goals, and Evans going out on his own like a fool trying to make the best of it, but now he has a team. That includes a DS and they recon’d the route and got very helpful information about the key parts of the ride as he eluded to. Information and a good coach is a very key thing at this level.

    BTW-great photo’s Padraig, right up there w/Graham Watsons, in some even better and much more individualized at key moments!

    1. Author

      Thanks for the good words everyone. I’ve been fortunate to call on John Pierce for his work for more than a dozen years. He’s a true pro and has been at it even longer than Watson.

      Yes, it is nice to see a Grand Tour victor (and contender!) actually competing, not just riding, but truly competing in a Classic. To be fair though. We need only roll the clock back to Damiano Cunego for a Giro/Classic winner, so 2002. Roll the clock back another year and Armstrong was second at Amstel before winning the Tour that year. Those facts betray a larger truth: the Grand Tour contenders aren’t competitive in the spring the way Merckx and Kelly were. Here’s a stat that will really make you think: To my knowledge, the last Tour de France winner to even ride Paris-Roubaix was Greg LeMond.

      You know, I hadn’t thought of this before, but when was the last time you saw two protagonists for the GC at a Grand Tour duke it out the following spring in a Classic? I’m thinking that hasn’t happened since the days of Hinault, but maybe LeMond.

      Oh, and I’m talking to Johnson&Johnson about developing the Lactic-acid-ometer. And I introduced them to the folks at Garmin, so that I can get the data on my 705.

  4. randomactsofcycling

    Breathtaking (every pun intended) stuff to watch. Are we seeing a return to the ‘season long racer’? It would certainly make the globalisation of cycling easier to have a consistent set of names on the start line.
    As an Aussie it is good to see the more generous side of Cadel’s personality. And with this World Champ we can be assured the only white line he is watching is painted on the road.
    As for the race….really, they need to make this race more exciting. Waiting for 260kms for 30 seconds of action is just not good enough. I suggest adding a couple of descents of the Mur to the race. That should spice it up a little.

  5. rich_mutt

    cadel winning is so much more interesting than hearing his usual barbs to the press. maybe, because we are so used to seeing him come up a bit short for so long now, that seeing him win is a refreshing change.

    todd k: i believe that i read contador saying that he would like to win this one day, but he was using this as a training race for july. BS! he wanted to win that- he just got beat.

  6. Souleur

    You know Padraig, Evans still getting it wrong just may be true after having time to rest on it and think….good thought. His team has had a hard couple of weeks, and we will see in a few weeks to come how they go.

    I heard him talk afterward of his win, which is usually so…well, forgetable to hear. Nonetheless, its entirely possible for him to have stumbled into this so far, and if your right, time will tell. July!

  7. todd k

    Rich_mutt: His immediate post race comments slightly different. There he did express frustration at coming up short. I actually found his comments regarding this weekend’s L-B-L a lot more typical of the generally dismissive language that GC Tour candidates in this day and age use for non Tour races. The GC elite appear to have egos that make it hard for them to say outright “I’m going to do my best in a given non tour race and if I lose, I will not make an utterance about how the tour is really the only race in which you should measure my performance.”

    But agreed, regardless which way he actually intended the comments post race, he wanted the win and got beat.

  8. Souleur

    agreed, Contador fell short, and wanted it. He had the look, and I think he thought he had it, but he was missing a gear in his legs he usually has.

    I seem to have heard somewhere he had a little gut bug recently and wasn’t 100% yet.

  9. Lachlan

    good point on the GC riders battling for classics and other races…. its been pretty great recently, from Contador to the Schelcks to Evans… even Mr Clean Valverde…. Seems different than how I remember most of teh 1990’s and early 00’s.

    Great to see the big champions winning races early in the year, and battling in the classics.

  10. Henry

    I’ll second being happy to see the Td’F contenders battling it out for the top spot in the Spring. Contesting more then just one race a year, taking chances and putting on one hell of a show. I’m liking this current crop of pros better then anything I’ve seen since Hinault was racing.

  11. Big Mikey

    If Contador really wants this race, he’ll get it next year. Looked to me like he made the mistake seems like most everybody does….he went too early and the steepness of the hill kicked him in the groin. Ouch. I just don’t understand how he’s so fast in April if he’s doing TdF prep. That’s either crazy strong or somehow turbocharged.

    Evans will not win the TdF; he needs to be focusing on the classics and shorter stage races. He’s missed a lot of wins focusing on the TdF, and he’d be best served to play to his strengths. Chapeau on a great win here.

  12. Robot

    Finally got a chance to watch this race. Wow. Evans attacking and dropping Contador was a sight to see. Reminded me of something Merckx said once, “A champion attacks. There is no other way.”

    I may have made that up. I can’t find reference now. Still applies, though, no?

  13. MattyVT

    It’s exceptionally sweet to see a guy who never attacks put one over on a guy who always does. Over the last few years how many times has somebody been able to get away from Contador when he’s on the rivet? Not many.

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