Cadel Evans warns the advantage of having Alberto Contador absent from this year’s Tour de France may be offset by added attention paid to his own team.
The Australian’s bid to claim cycling’s greatest prize for a second straight year received a major boost when Contador’s two-year doping suspension was upheld on Monday after a protracted legal process.
The retrospective punishment dished out by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) stripped the Spaniard of his 2010 Tour de France title and awarded it to runner-up Andy Schleck.
Contador’s suspension ends on August 6, ruling the early favourite out of the Tour de France and also the London Olympics.
“In 2012, in some ways it is one less GC (general classification) rider,” Evans said after attending the Laureus awards in London.
“Whether that is an advantage or a disadvantage, it depends.
“Certainly at any grand tour that he lines up in, he (Contador) is normally the man to beat and that is what his record shows.
“So in that regard maybe…(it helps).”
With this year’s Tour de France course leaning in favour of strong time trialists, Contador and Evans were considered the main contenders alongside the likes of Bradley Wiggins, Schleck and Denis Menchov.
Bookmakers reacted to Contador’s ban by installing Evans as hot favourite to win the 2012 race, with one Australian bookie slashing his odds to $2.50.
Evans said not having Contador around would ensure more of the focus in the peloton shifted onto his BMC team, making their task tougher.
“Sometimes it can be to your advantage to have another good, strong rider because it is also another favourite,” he said.
“It is someone else that the other teams are controlling.”
The Australian is wary of talk of favouritism for the Tour de France, having had to carry that burden on his way to his second-place finish in 2008.
Contador missed that race after his team Astana was kicked off the tour for lead rider Alexander Vinokourov testing positive for blood doping.
Evans said he would not be passing judgment on the merits of Contador’s drugs ban.
“I don’t know whether it is the right thing or the wrong thing,” he said.
Contador tested positive for the performance-enhancing drug clenbuterol during the 2010 Tour de France and the doping case turned into a saga.
The Spaniard argued the positive test was a result of a contaminated steak he ate on a rest day in the Pyrenees.
CAS ruled that it was more likely that he had ingested a contaminated food supplement than contaminated meat.
Schleck, who finished second in the past three editions of the Tour de France, was not happy to be handed the 2010 title.
The Luxembourg rider, who lost by 39 seconds in 2010, was saddened by Monday’s decision and did not consider himself to be a Tour de France champion.
“I battled with Contador in that race and I lost,” he said.
“… if I succeed this year, I will consider it as my first Tour victory.”
Evans, who lost the 2007 Tour de France by just 23 seconds to Contador, said he understood Schleck’s emotions.
“It has happened now,” Evans said.
“It is history. I can understand why Andy feels that way because you do everything you can to win and in the situation that is there at the time.
“.. what happens, happens and it is past and we go on.”
CAS says it will rule on a request from cycling’s governing body, UCI, to fine Contador at least 2,485,000 euros ($A3.05 million) at a “later date”.
Since 1995, only two Tour de France winners – Carlos Sastre in 2008 and Evans last year – have not been tarnished by controversies and allegations about performance-enhancing drugs.
The Australian said Contador, who still holds the 2007 and 2009 Tour de France titles, was well respected in cycling circles.
“On a personal level, I do not know Alberto very well,” he said.
“We always say hello but because we are normally racing head to head.
“We are fierce competitors but on another level as a human being, Alberto is a simple guy.
“He has a lot of respect for his teammates and the people around him.
“From what little I do know of him on a personal level, I like his personality and his character.”