As his overall lead in the Tour de France slipped away on the Col de la Madeleine this afternoon, even Cadel Evans’ BMC Racing team-mates were unaware that the world champion was in agony with a fractured left elbow sustained in a crash early on in Sunday’s Stage 8 of the race, it has been revealed.
Evans had been involved in the same crash shortly after the start of the stage that involved Lance Armstrong as well as Team Sky's Simon Gerrans, which left the latter, who completed the stage but abandoned the Tour yesterday, with a fractured arm.
Team President Jim Ochowicz disclosed the Australian rider’s injury this evening on the BMC Racing website, saying “ We decided not to tell anybody about it and try and fake it through the race. We didn't want to let our competitors know and have them attacking him during the race on the early climbs. We weren't sure what the outcome was going to be.”
Evans, whom Ochowicz said does not have full mobility in his elbow was dropped when the group including the main general classification riders was still 8km from the summit of the Madeleine, the day’s final and most unforgiving climb, and almost instantaneously, Andy Schleck, second overall, and defending champion Alberto Contador, went off the front of the bunch.
“At the end, the injury just overwhelmed him," explained Ochowicz.
Evans, who had ridden the stage with his elbow heavily strapped and was visibly ashen-faced as he struggled up the rest of the climb, admitted that Sunday’s crash had taken its toll.
“I wasn't at the same level as I was on Stage 8," he explained. "I had a big crash at the start of that day and I'm really paying for the consequences from that. I suffer on my bike every day but I do it with pleasure. The guys and the team have supported me and believed in me in this whole project. I'm so sorry to have let them all down,” he added.
However, the 33-year-old, who not only surrendered the maillot jaune today but also, in all probability, any chance of a podium place as he slid to 18th overall, 7 minutes 47 seconds behind new race leader Andy Schleck, plans to continue in the race.
BMC Racing’s team physician Dr Max Testa revealed that the world champion’s fracture had been confirmed by x-ray in Morzine, stating, “It's a stable fracture – small – but very painful."
Dr Testa added: "Cadel is a super tough guy so he managed very well. He did as much as any human could do."
Evans certainly wasn’t the only rider suffering out there today as the 97th edition of the race continued to prove to be as brutal for the riders as it has been exciting for the fans.
Away from the scrutiny of the TV cameras, David Millar of Garmin-Transitions pulled out one of the rides of his life to finish inside the time limit as the full effects of illness and injury that he has been fighting for the past week since Stage 2 finally caught up with the Scot.
“Today represents a brand new entry into my top five worst-ever days on a bike,” said Millar. “I spent 180 kilometers by myself convinced I was going to abandon or be eliminated.”
“I crashed three times on Stage 2, and the third time I flipped over the handlebars and knew I’d really hurt myself,” he continued. “Ever since I’ve been battling injuries from that crash, plus a fever and stomach bug, and just basically hanging on for dear life,” Millar explained.
“I started today motivated, but knew immediately something wasn’t right,” he added. “My left side where I’d crashed just locked up and then my back started having spasms.”
According to the 33-year-old, with 100km left to ride, he was half an hour down on the stage leaders. He would eventually cross the line last of the 181 finishers, 42 minutes 45 seconds behind stage winner Sandy Casar of Francaise des Jeux, but crucially inside the time barrier.
“All I could see in my head were the contours of the stage from the maps. I broke it up into 5-kilometer climbs and kept thinking – I have to get through this,” confessed Millar, who added that “The fans on the side of the road were brilliant, they were cheering and telling me not to give up, and that made a huge difference for me.”
He added: “By the time I got to the finish, I didn’t know if I’d made the time cut – all I knew was that I’d finished. And at the Tour, it’s about finishing. This is not a race you want to leave, or one you’ll give up on without turning yourself inside out. Onward.”
Team Sky’s Bradley Wiggins was another rider who endured a tough day in the saddle but has vowed to carry on, even though he has as much as admitted that a repeat of last year’s fourth-place finish is now beyond him.
After coming home 4 minutes 55 seconds behind Casar in 30th place, Wiggins, who now lies 16th in the general classification, 7 minutes 18 seconds behind Schleck, told the Team Sky website: "I'm pretty tired. I did my best but there we go, that's life - there's not a lot I can do other than my best.”
As for the rest of the Tour, the Team Sky leader said: "I'm going to keep pushing and doing my best. I may keep trying for a top 10 on GC. So much has been put into this; I don't just want to give up. I'll keep trying."
Meanwhile, Team Saxo Bank’s Andy Schleck, second overall to Alberto Contador in last year’s edition of the race, was celebrating moving into the yellow jersey for the first time in his career following a monumental battle with the Spaniard that saw the pair catch the survivors of a day-long breakaway inside the closing kilometre to fight out the sprint for the line.
The Luxembourg rider, whose team mate and older brother Fränk, himself a former wearer of the maillot jaune, had ridden away from Contador and all the other general classification contenders bar Euskaltel-Euskadi’s Samuel Sanchez to suggest that he might be the main contender to the Astana rider’s crown; today’s events confirmed that, barring crashes, he is the only one.
“I'm immensely proud to take the yellow jersey on a stage like this where everybody suffers,” Schleck told the Team Saxo Bank website. “I reached my limit as well and I'm very thankful to have these great teammates around me who really delivered a perfect job.”
Approaching the summit of the Col de la Madeleine, Schleck and Contador reached Team Saxo Bank’s Jens Voigt who had been dropped by the escape group on the climb, and the German bravely tried to help his team leader until his legs gave in shortly before the top.
“Naturally, I would have liked to have Jens with me over the last climb,” added the Luxembourg star, “but I could see in his eyes that he was absolutely empty."
Team owner Bjarne Riis, who yesterday announced that the team’s sponsorship worries had been resolved, although it remains to be seen if the Schleck brothers will still be riding for the team next year or joining a new, Luxembourg-based squad, said: “The plan was to put in a huge pressure if Andy was feeling alright and thankfully, he was flying.”
He continued: “Jens, Chris [Anker Sørensen] and Jakob [Fuglsang] put in a world class effort and they actually started the massacre on our opponents. Jens was ready to work for Andy on the final part of the mountain and when he wasn't able to drop Contador today, he did the right thing and worked together with him. Mission accomplished today, but the Tour de France is far from being over,” he added.
It may not be Bastille Day until tomorrow – traditionally a stage on which French riders give their all to try and get a home win – but French fans have had plenty to celebrate already on this year’s Tour, with Quick Step’s Sylvain Chavanel winning two stages to spend two days in yellow and his team mate Jerome Pineau dominating the mountains competition until today.
Locals got to celebrate another French stage winner this afternoon in the shape of Sandy Casar of Francaise des Jeux who held off Caisse d’Epargne’s Luis Leon Sanchez to take the sprint in Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne.
Behind Casar, the race for the mountains classification took a Gallic twist with Pineau, who started the day in the polka dot jersey, cresting four of the day’s first five climbs ahead of the break, only to surrender it to Anthony Charteau of Bbox Bouygues Telecom, the first man over the Madeleine, by the narrowest of margins.
The pair are tied on 85 points, but Charteau moves to the head of the classification on countback, with the Madeleine being the first Hors Categorie climb of this year’s race.
Charteau confessed that his moving into the lead of the mountains classification came about by accident, as his mind had been set on the stage win, but now he’s in the polka dot jersey, he seems to want to keep it.
Caisse d’Epargne’s Christophe Moreau, who yesterday announced that this will be his last season as a pro, might have to look hard to find Pineau’s signature on his retirement card, however, after outsprinting the Quick Step man to the second climb of the stage – something that earned him a rebuke from his own team car, with the French riders in the race having so far been content to allow Pineau to pick up points uncontested.
With Charteau in the jersey now, the intermediate climbs may be more hotly fought for in the coming fortnight as Pineau looks to get the jersey back.
The next climb will certainly be worth winning – the Category 1 Cote de Laffrey, which comes 77km into tomorrow’s 179km Stage 10 from Chambery to Gap as the race heads out of the Alps and towards what should be a decisive few days in the Pyrenees.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.