Cadel Evans thinks one Tour de France title will make it easier to win another one. And hes ready to add that second championship right now.
Evans opens his title defense when the 99th edition of cyclings marquee race begins today with a quick, 4-mile prologue in Liege, Belgium an individual time trial expected to be dominated by specialists such as Fabien Cancellara of Switzerland and Tony Martin of Germany or contender Bradley Wiggins of Britain.
The beginning of the Tour offers the cycling world a welcome return to racing after the sports doping ghosts returned this month, with charges by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency that Lance Armstrong used performance-enhancing drugs en route to his seven Tour victories. He denies doping and notes he has never failed a drug test.
For a race covering 2,100 miles over three weeks, the prologue is just the very beginning for the rider who will cycle down Paris Champs-Elysees in the yellow jersey on July 22 but it could provide an early indication about who wont be in front at the end. Evans already was playing down expectations about how he might fare in it.
It starts (today) on a stage that isnt so suited to me, the BMC team leader said Friday. But from here on in, its all systems go, and Im looking forward to getting another Tour started.
Evans said he has a similar mentality to his winning approach last year. But this years route goes heavier on time trials with more than 60 miles total in individual races against the clock and lighter on steep mountain climbs than the most recent Tours.
Knowing that we have already won one, it makes it quite a little bit easier, Evans said. When youve won one in the bag its there. ... It makes it a whole lot easier. You dont have this question of doubt: Maybe I can win it, maybe I cant? We know we can.
He acknowledged that race connoisseurs are predicting a two-man showdown between Evans and Wiggins, a three-time Olympic track gold medalist who has converted to road races and worked hard to improve in the mountains that often are crucial to winning the Tour.
They tell me that Wiggins is the man to beat, so they say, but well see it on the roads, Evans said. Three weeks on the road is a long time, and a lot can happen.
Wiggins is off to a terrific start this season, winning the Criterium du Dauphine, the Tour de Romandie and Paris-Nice stage races this year. Evans, by comparison, admitted he has been off to a bit of a quiet start to 2012, with just one victory in the three-stage Criterium International, but is progressing and hopes to peak for the Tour.
Wiggins wants to become the first Briton to reach the Tour podium and possibly take home yellow and with the London Olympics ahead next month, is motivated doubly.
I cant wait to get down that ramp and put down into practice all these months of training, he said. I dont think Ive ever been this good: All this stuff weve been doing this week suggests that I am in the form of my life.
Wiggins said hes sensed through social media how many fans back in Britain are behind him.
In England ... every childs dream is to lift the FA Cup at Wembley or whatever, Wiggins said. This is my Wembley.
The crop of likely contenders has thinned in recent months. Alberto Contador was suspended from racing until August and stripped of his 2010 Tour title for doping in that race. Andy Schleck who inherited the Spaniards title after placing second that year is out with a spinal injury.
International Cycling Union president Pat McQuaid expressed concern that the absence of aggressive mountain climbers like Contador and Schleck might deprive the Tour of some drama.
By all accounts, it should probably pan down to a race between two individuals: Cadel Evans and Bradley Wiggins, McQuaid said. Theyre both very similar type of individuals, which could make it a little bit uninteresting because theyre both slightly conservative in the mountains, and they both depend on their time trial abilities to win the race.
So it could be a methodical race, unfortunately, he said.
The three uphill finishes relatively are few by recent Tour standards. The first comes on the eastern Vosges mountains in Stage 7, with a steep ride up the Planche de Belles Filles followed by rides up to ski stations: La Toussuire in the Alps in Stage 11 and Peyragudes in the Pyrenees in Stage 17.
Outside threats for overall victory include Dutch rider Robert Gesink, the winner of the Tour of California this year, American veteran Levi Leipheimer solid in both time trials and the mountains and Italys Vincenzo Nibali, the winner of the 2010 Spanish Vuelta who is back at the Tour for the first time since 2009.
Tom Danielson, a member of Garmin-Sharp and a Fort Lewis College alumnus, finished eighth in last years event and again is in the field.
After three days in Belgium, the race cuts from the English Channel across northern France to the Vosges, down to the Alps, down to the nudist-beach town of Cap dAgde on the Mediterranean Sea, then into the Pyrenees, followed by a pivotal time trial in Stage 19 on the eve of the finish in Paris.
The basics of the race remain the same: Youve got to get to Paris quicker than everyone else, Evans said. Winning one Tour was great. Winning two must be better, right?
AP Sports Writer Samuel Petrequin in Liege and The Durango Herald contributed to this report.