LA GRANDE MOTTE, July 7 – Cadel Evans endured a first test of his yellow jersey credentials on Monday's third stage of the Tour de France which put seven-time champion Lance Armstrong in the limelight.Thanks to an unintentional but deadly turn of pace by Mark Cavendish’s Columbia team Armstrong moved up seven places from 10th to third overall at just 40sec off the pace.
While the 37-year-old American was the only yellow jersey contender to benefit from a dramatic split in the peloton 30km from the finish, Evans and the rest of his fellow challengers were given a day to forget.
Race leader Fabian Cancellara of Saxo Bank said it was "simply part of bike racing" after finishing with the front group 41secs ahead of Evans.
For the Australian, however, fighting to limit time losses that could cost him the race was not the best preparation for Tuesday’s time trial.
"It was a really nervous day – there were left and right cross winds, especially after the feed zone when you come down to the sea level where there is a risk of cross wind," said Evans.
"Two years ago we had a similar finish here and a similar thing happened again.
"As it was, it caught out a lot of people, which in retrospect isn’t quite as bad as I first expected when we first took the turn.
"That’s racing in the Tour. At any moment something can go wrong."
Although at this early point in the race ahead of all the crucial climbing stages, there is no cause for alarm for Evans.
He did not lose time to any other rivals apart form Armstrong. He is now eighth at 1:04 behind Cancellara and still just five seconds down on Contador.
If there was any cause for alarm it was in the Spanish end of the Astana camp, with Armstrong’s teammate Alberto Contador – the 2007 champion and this year’s favourite.
Contador was reportedly the rider who failed to keep pace when Columbia’s pace at the front of the main peloton started to take it’s toll on the bunch.
"When the split happened I was right on (behind) Contador’s wheel," claimed Francaise des Jeux rider Christophe Le Mevel.
"If it’s true there were 29 guys in front he must have been 30th and I was 31st. It was him who caused the split."
Once round a right hand bend, the wind changed, catching most of the peloton out. Panic ensued as the teams of Contador, Evans, Denis Menchov and Carlos Sastre tried to close a gap which Columbia’s riders, along with other including Armstrong, soon increased to 30secs.
Evans at one point was even at the head of the chase, pulling like a man possessed in a bid to limit the damage. But with riders from several teams in the leading group, a lot of teams refused to help.
"Columbia had all their guys there and with that motivation they were working for a common effort as well as a stage win, but Astana didn’t want to ride because they had guys in front," added Evans.
"CSC (Saxo Bank), they rode because they had the Schleck brothers (Andy and Frank) behind, but it is a litle bit of a mixed effort even if there are more riders behind.
"At first when it happens you have less than a second to make a decision.
"That is where you have make a instinctive decision, you can recover later, but it is very difficult to recover minutes back."
Armstrong, who steadfastly refuses to rule himself out of aiming for an eighth Tour de France crown, appeared to make a veiled reference to Contador’s slip when he held court at Astana’s team bus.
"It wasn’t that they didn’t take advantage. It was just that they weren’t there," he said when asked why the other favourites failed to follow.
"When you see what the wind is doing and you have a turn (bend) coming up, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out you have to go to the front.
"I’ve won the Tour de France seven times, so it makes no sense not to be there."
A defiant Contador later said he did not read too much into the end result.
"When the split happened I was riding up to the front with a team-mate and then I ended up in no man’s land," he said.
"So it was better to wait. Ahead, Columbia were very well organised."
He added: "I do not want to evaluate the tactics of the team, everyone can come to his own conclusions.
"Anyway, the Tour is not going to be decided with that has happened today."