PAU, France – Cadel Evans has two days in which to relaunch his yellow jersey bid but he seems almost resigned to missing out in the face of the formidable Sky team of race leader Bradley Wiggins.
“Sky have just shown their strength, they've really all come on firing. They have eight riders here and seven of them riding on the front have been incredible,” said the Australian.
With five stages remaining, optimists would suggest Evans – Australia's first winner of the race in 2011 – has both the time and the opportunity to turn around the 3min 19sec deficit that has left him in fourth place.
But in reality that task appears complex.
Only two mountain stages remain and only one, stage 17 on Thursday, has a mountaintop finish that would likely give Evans and third placed rival Italian rival Vincenzo Nibali a decent chance of closing their deficits.
Nibali is currently 2:23 behind Wiggins in third, 18sec behind the Londoner's teammate Chris Froome.
Despite losing Belarusian all-rounder Kanstantsin Sivtsov to injury in the first week, Sky's pace-setting in the mountains has proved deadly for their rivals.
After Australians Michael Rogers and Richie Porte have driven the pace early on, Evans, Nibali and other rivals are usually left with little left to give by the time they are left with Wiggins and Froome in the finale.
Evans bravely attacked Sky on stage 11 to La Toussuire but, 60
km from home, he was soon brought to heel and went on to lose a further 1:26 to Wiggins during a dramatic finale that saw Froome controversially attack his leader.
“In retrospect, it wasn't a successful move, but you don't want to get to Paris thinking I should've done something more,” said Evans.
A day ahead of the second rest day Tuesday, Evans said it's not getting any easier.
“It seems like their riders have all come on the best form on their lives,” he noted. “They ride a continuous tempo that's leaving the climbers pretty empty when they get to the final. It's making it difficult to do stuff.”
In the event Sky suffer an off day and give Evans and fellow rivals some hope, the 19th and penultimate stage Saturday could be his saving grace.
But that appears another formidable challenge.
The 53.5 km time trial from Bonneval to Chartres is slightly rolling but has long straight sections that are more likely to suit Wiggins' style of riding.
Having lost 10secs to the Englishman in the opening prologue over 6.4 km, Evans suffered his first big setback on the race's first time trial on stage nine.
Held on a 41.5 km course arguably more suited to himself than Wiggins, the Australian lost 1:43 to the Briton and 1:08 to Froome.
“Their performance in the time trial from the two leaders was also incredible,” added Evans.
The race resumes Wednesday when the peloton tackles a series of major climbs Ä the Col d'Aubisque, the Col du Tourmalet, the Col d'Aspin and the Col de Peyresourde – on the way to a downhill finish in Bagneres-de-Luchon.
Stage 17 begins in Bagneres-de-Luchon and takes in four climbs including the 11.7 km hike over the Port de Bales, before finishing with a 15.4 km ascension to Peyragudes. – Sapa-AFP