NICE, France — At the Tour de France, it really isn’t a cliché to say that every second counts. As a former winner, Cadel Evans knows that better than most.
The 2011 champion was one of the losers Tuesday in the team time trial as Evans and his teammates still couldn’t keep up with two of his main rivals, Chris Froome and Alberto Contador.
Evans surrendered 23 seconds to Froome and 17 to Contador. So early in the Tour — the team race against the clock was the fourth of 21 stages — such small losses are by no means fatal to Evans’ hopes of finishing on the podium in Paris on July 21.
Riders who have bad days in the Pyrenees, in the second week, or on Mont Ventoux and in the Alps, in the third week, could lose far more than that on one steep climb.
Depending on how the race unfolds, the deficit could force the Australian to try to attack Froome and Contador in the mountains. That will be risky because both are better climbers than Evans. Contador, 30, and Froome, 28, are also a good bit younger than the 36-year-old Australian.
“You look to gain every second at this point in the Tour and losing a lot of seconds certainly isn’t what I hoped for today and it isn’t what I expected,” he said. “We’ve been put on the back foot and we’ll have to see what opportunities come our way.
“The simple analysis is we weren’t fast enough.”
That wasn’t true of Orica-GreenEdge. The team of six Australians, a Canadian, a Swiss rider and a South African made itself at home on the Promenade des Anglais — “the promenade of the English” — with the quickest ever team time trial on the 15.5-mile route that went out and back along the famous beachside avenue in the Mediterranean city of Nice.
Racing past the palm trees, Orica beat Omega Pharma-Quick Step by less than a second and Froome’s Team Sky by three seconds. Orica’s average speed of 35.9 mph was the fastest for a team time trial at the 110-year-old Tour – Lance Armstrong’s Discover Channel team averaged 35.6 mph in 2005, but those results were thrown out when Armstrong was stripped of his wins from 1999-2005 for serial doping.
“It was just smooth. When you’re going really high speed, it’s all about keeping it smooth. You know, no champion efforts, no big individual efforts, it is about riding to the strength of the team,” Orica rider Stuart O’Grady said.
Another Orica rider, Simon Gerrans, took over the race lead and the yellow jersey that goes with it.
After four stages, the Tour has had three different proud bearers of the yellow jersey. Marcel Kittel and Jan Bakelants wore it before Gerrans.
In 2012, the Tour had just two leaders — Fabian Cancellara and then eventual winner Bradley Wiggins, who took the jersey on Stage 7 and never gave it back.