Santos Tour Down Under: Cadel Evans stars as Team Sky challenge wilts
Last Updated: 23/01/14 4:09pm
Attack: Porte and Evans broke away on Corkscrew, but the BMC man prevailed
Team Sky are running out of options at the Santos Tour Down Under after Cadel Evans's show of strength, says Roger Hammond.
The BMC star produced a stunning ascent of Corkscrew Hill to shake off Team Sky's Richie Porte and Simon Gerrans, before soloing to the finish to win stage three and snatch Gerrans's leader's jersey.
"If Cadel is as strong as he was today in two days' time on Willunga Hill then what can they do?"
Former Tour de France winner Evans now holds a 12-second advantage over Orica-GreenEdge rider Gerrans, while Team Sky's hopes of overall success seem to have faded.
Geraint Thomas sits sixth, 29 seconds down on Evans, while team-mate Porte is a further four seconds adrift in 11th.
The hilltop finish up Old Willunga Hill on Saturday's stage five has long been earmarked as the decisive moment in the six-day event, but if Evans can maintain his current form, Hammond doubts anyone will be able to deny the 36-year-old Tour Down Under glory.
"It's a disappointment for Team Sky," said Hammond, after seeing Porte fail to live with Evans's pace after the pair had dropped Gerrans with 9km to go.
"That was exactly the scenario they wanted: to get Richie Porte away with just Cadel and then for those two to mutually benefit from the situation by riding together to the finish.
"The problem is that was Richie's strongest point [climbing] and he's just been shown that not only is there Simon Gerrans, who can win the sprints, but up the hills there's somebody stronger than him in Cadel Evans.
"What can Sky do from here in the coming days? I don't see too many opportunities for them.
"If Cadel is as strong as he was today in two days' time on Willunga Hill then what can they do?
"You've got to match your rivals and if you've been given the lesson today that you can't match them you've only got wishful thinking if you think you can do it in two days' time."
Evans battled to third in the 2013 Giro d'Italia but a disappointing 39th place finish at last year's Tour de France led some to question whether the former world champion still had the ability to challenge for the big titles against the best riders.
While the Tour Down Under doesn't carry the prestige of the Grand Tours, Hammond was still impressed with Evans' display on Thursday and says it will silence some of the Australian's doubters.
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"Cadel made Richie Porte look like he was struggling on that climb - and let's not forget Porte is one of the best climbers in the world," said the former British champion.
"This was an incredible ride by Cadel Evans. He even changed up into the big chain ring towards the top of the climb, that's the chain ring most of us use for going downhill or on the flat.
"That just shows how fast he was going up."