Doubts over Evans' Tour defense grow

By Greg Keller

Associated Press

Published: Friday, July 13 2012 6:33 a.m. MDT

Cadel Evans of Australia climbs Madeleine pass during the 11th stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 148 kilometers (92 miles) with start in Albertville and finish in La Toussuire, French Alps, Thursday July 12, 2012.

Laurent Cipriani, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

LA TOUSSUIRE, France — A sign of how far out of contention Cadel Evans has fallen in this year's Tour de France is that a Twitter spat between two rival riders' companions overshadowed him in post-race commentary.

The Australian's bid to repeat as yellow jersey in Paris is now being all but written off, after 11 stages of racing answered several pre-race questions about him:

He can't beat Bradley Wiggins on the flat.

He can't beat him on the climbs.

And he certainly can't beat the Briton in the remaining long time trial, a flat, straight 33.1-mile shot scheduled a day before the race ends July 22 in Paris that couldn't be more suited to Wiggins' considerable strengths in the discipline.

Rivals know it. Race fans know it. Evans' mother, if you pressed her, probably knows it, too.

Whether Evans knows it is the only remaining question.

After the race, Evans fled reporters, seeking shelter in his team's hotel without sparing the least word for the gathered press pack.

He let coach John Lelangue speak for him.

"Cadel is disappointed of course," Lelangue said. "We have tried to limit everything, and I think the team did great ... but making up more than three minutes is complicated."

Tejay van Garderen, Evans' young American lieutenant who did his best to protect his leader through the hard, mountainous stage, was still protecting the Australian after the race.

"If Cadel's legs come around, anything is possible. There's a long way to go," Van Garderen said.

With nearly no one other than possibly the numerous Aussies flanking the roadsides of the Tour still betting on Evans, talk after the race focused on a brewing split in Team Sky between Wiggins and his sidekick, Christopher Froome.

Froome's late attack high on the slopes of La Toussuire left his leader stuck in the middle of the road, unable to respond. Kenyan-born Froome was just as quickly called back by his race director, in a move that most race watchers interpreted as a taking to task that frustrated Froome's ambitions.

While the riders denied this and played down the incident with convenient talk of a "misunderstanding," Wiggins' wife took to Twitter to praise Wiggins' teammates Michael Rogers and Richie Porte — but not Froome.

"See Mick Rogers and Richie Porte for examples of genuine, selfless effort and true professionalism," Catherine Wiggins Tweeted shortly after the race. Froome's girlfriend then Tweeted that "Froome dog" was a loyal breed "but he's being taken advantage of."

Froome has been a model of dedication for Wiggins, so far. His move, however, suggested he could be frustrated by his position within the mighty British outfit.

Asked about his possible desire to knock Wiggins off his perch, Froome's answer spoke volumes about his ambition.

"No mutiny," he said, before pausing. "Not now."

After defending champion Evans lost 1 minute, 26 seconds to Wiggins on Thursday, the Kenyan-born Froome sits second overall, 2:05 behind Wiggins.

Thursday's route was brutal, with at least 65 kilometers of climbs in total, over two of the most grueling ascents in pro cycling, plus a very tough uphill finish.

Frenchman Pierre Rolland, a 25-year old Europcar rider, gave his team its second straight stage victory, and his second in two years — after winning on the fabled Alpe d'Huez last year.

Overall, Wiggins now leads Sky teammate Froome, who rose to second, by 2:05, and Vincenzo Nibali trails in third, 2:23 back. Belgium's Jurgen Van Den Broeck is fifth — 4:48 behind.

The race stays in the Alps on Friday with a 140.4-mile ride from Saint-Jean-De-Maurienne to Annonay Davezieux.

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