Battered Evans tries to tackle massive Tour climbs |

Battered Evans tries to tackle massive Tour climbs

Jerome Pugmire
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
Stage winner Riccardo Ricco of Italy, center, Cadel Evans of Australia, left, Alejandro Valverde of Spain, right, and Denis Menchov of Russia, rear, are seen in the final climb towards Super-Besse during the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race between Aigurande and the ski resort of Super-Besse, central France, Thursday July 10, 2008. (AP Photo/Bernard Papon, POOL)

BAGNERES-DE-BIGORRE, France ” Cadel Evans will wake up with a sore head and cuts all over his body, and Monday’s two huge mountain climbs will tell if the Australian’s crash in stage nine of the Tour de France was minor or major.

Evans tumbled over his handlebars, cracking open his helmet as he landed and scraping skin off his shoulder, elbow, knee and thigh during Sunday’s ninth stage ” in which Italian rider Riccardo Ricco clinched victory with a solo breakaway and Kim Kirchen of Luxembourg kept the race leader’s yellow jersey.

Evans was mopped up and bandaged by the Tour doctor, hardly the ideal preparation for a Tour favorite ahead of Monday’s 10th stage and its two famed mountain passes ” the Tourmalet and the Hautacam ” that are so tough they’re beyond classification.

Evans’ Silence-Lotto team was optimistic after medical checks revealed the 31-year-old Australian, runner-up at the Tour last year, did not break any bones.

“He immediately assured us that it was OK and that it was not something really bad,” said Marc Sargeant, Lotto’s team director. “He was the first to say, ‘It’s OK, guys’. He’s one of the best riders in this Tour, I’m pretty sure of that.”

Still, this accident seems like an open invitation for his rivals to attack Monday ” not least Alejandro Valverde, who will look to close a gap of 1 minute, 6 seconds on Evans.

While Evans felt the pain of skin scraping off his body as he skidded along the tarmac, Valverde ” now seemingly recovered from a crash of his own on stage 5 ” got a chance to test his legs for the Tourmalet and the Hautacam.

“I could check that I felt good and obviously this is very important for tomorrow’s stage,” he said. “I hope the good weather stays with us … because otherwise the descent down Tourmalet could be even harder than the ascent.”

The Tourmalet is excruciating in the best of times, let alone when riding while injured. It winds upward for 11 miles at a gradient of 7.5 percent. After an exhilarating descent of some 22.3 miles, stage 10 finishes with another whopping climb for 8.9 miles up Hautacam.

“Tomorrow is important,” said Team CSC director Bjarne Riis, a Tour winner in 1996. “Tomorrow is the day if you want to do something.”

With Evans likely to be in great discomfort, Riis senses an attack could gain time on Evans and pressure Valverde. Team CSC leader Carlos Sastre is in 10th place overall ” 22 seconds behind Valverde ” and brothers Frank and Andy Schleck of Luxembourg are just behind in 11th and 12th, respectively.

With so many attacks likely, Kirchen finally could lose the yellow jersey he has worn since winning a time trial in stage 4.

“We are punching above our weight right now,” said Bob Stapleton, Kirchen’s sporting director on Team Columbia. “We built a team to suit our athletes and that has turned out better than we could have hoped for.”

The same could apply to Ricco, a 24-year-old Italian rider who is threatening an upset at the Tour. Although Ricco is 2:35 back in 21st place he could close that time gap if other teams fail to chase him down again.

“You have to congratulate Ricco for the great thing he did today,” Valverde said. “He attacked where it was steepest and no one could catch his wheel. Ricco is very strong at the moment. He is someone we should all be keeping an eye on.”

Nicknamed “The Cobra,” Ricco surged forward in the steepest part of the final ascent on the 139-mile ride from Toulouse to Bagneres-de-Bigorre.

“Let’s say that this is really my turf, my domain,” he said. “I went all out to the finish.”

Ricco finished 1 minute, 4 seconds ahead of his closest challenger, Vladimir Efimkov of Russia and 1:17 ahead of Kirchen and Evans.

In a sport beset by doping ” the latest instance was Friday’s exclusion of Spanish veteran Manuel Beltran ” Ricco has had to fend off suspicions. He says he has a naturally high hematocrit level, which measures the volume of red blood cells. High hematocrit levels can suggest use of the banned blood booster EPO, but do not confirm it.

“I hope soon that everybody will stop speaking about that,” Ricco said.

Kirchen retained his 6-second lead over Evans. Christian Vande Velde of the United States moved to third, 44 seconds behind Kirchen, and Germany’s Stefan Schumacher fell to fourth.

Evans crossed the finish line and screamed at his bodyguard to “make sure nobody touches my left shoulder” as camera crews swamped him. Teammate Christophe Brandt said a bag caught in the Australian’s front wheel.

“His front wheel stopped and he went over the bike,” Brandt said. Evans’ helmet was cracked in two places.

Following Monday’s stage, riders get a rest day before another mountainous route on Wednesday’s 11th stage.

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