Allies in motion ... Jurgen Van Den Broeck (R) of Belgium, Cadel Evans (C) of Australia and Vincenzo Nibali (L) attacks yellow jersey wearer Bradley Wiggins of Great Britain. Photo: Getty Images
PORRENTRUY, Switzerland: Cadel Evans predicts there will be a major reshuffle in the top order of the Tour de France on Monday while his team management hinted at an upset by the Australian.
The youngest rider in the field, Thibaut Pinot of France, wins stage eight. Photo: AFP
Stage nine, a 41.5km race against the clock - the 'race of truth' - from Arc-et-Senans to Besancon will certainly show where the top riders stand.
Although, whatever the outcome, Evans (BMC) showed in Sunday's eighth stage, in which he placed second, that he will be willing to attack to win.
Sunday's stage was won by the youngest rider in the Tour, Frenchman Thibaut Pinot (Francaise des Jeux), 22, and farewelled one more top-five overall contender in Spanish Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), who crashed out with a shoulder and hand injuries after 56km.
The Liquigas-Cannondale train ramps up the pace at the front of the peloton. Photo: Getty Images
Pinot won by 26 seconds from Evans, who led an eight strong group that included the British pair of Bradley Wiggins (Sky), who retained the race leader's yellow jersey on Sunday, and Chris Froome (Sky); Italian Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale), Russian Denis Menchov (Katusha) and Belgian Jurgen Van den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol). Going into Monday's stage, Wiggins leads the 3496km Tour overall by 10 secs over Evans (2nd), 16 secs on Nibali (3rd), 54 secs on Menchov (4th), 1min 32secs on Froome (6th) and 2min 11secs on Van den Broeck (8th).
The stage was a belter. Pinot eventually hung on to win, but despite the suffering handed out to so many in his wake, the exciting battle was that between the major favourites - Evans, Wiggins, Nibali, Van Den Broeck - in the final kilometres.
While Wiggins again had numbers on his side with Froome being there for the finale, Evans, Nibali and Van den Broeck inadvertently became allies as they all needed to attack Wiggins, or at least apply pressure to him and drain the race leader of vital reserves for the time trial.
Cadel Evans leads the chase group over the finish line. Photo: Getty Images
After passing the summit of the last of seven climbs, the first category Col de La Croix with 16km to go, Van den Broeck attacked, and then Evans went - but Wiggins was quick to counter both moves. Then Nibali, a reputed descender, forced the pace up front all the way to where it bottomed out.
Then Evans attacked again inside the last three kilometres. But inevitably the group finished intact, with Evans having to settle for second place.
The rarity of the situation was not lost on Evans after the stage.
Wiggins fights off his rivals on stage eight
Bradley Wiggins (C) of Great Britain defends the race leader's yellow jersey as he follows the wheel of teammate Michael Rogers (R) of Australia. Photo: Getty Images
"It's a different situation than years gone by ... people are all isolated [now]. A lot of the leaders are isolated; especially guys like Van den Broeck or Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) who have already lost time. They dont have anything to lose so they are much more willing to put it out there ... maybe," said Evans.
"But [Monday] is a test of truth ... each with their own two legs and I think there is a possibility that everything is turned upside down. We will see ..."
Wiggins beat Evans in their last long time trial in the Criterium du Dauphine - over 53km - by 1 minute 43 seconds. But that was on a flatter course suiting Wiggins.
Monday's time trial course is more technical and hillier than at the Dauphine, which should suit Evans more than Wiggins, who prefers a flatter drag that draws on his sheer power. But is Evans at the optimal form needed to capitalise on this course? In the BMC camp, confidence is high that Evans has the form needed.
"I think he is better than last year," BMC team president Jim Ochowicz said. "The time trial is going to show some colour for sure. It will show us some colour for the next time trial [stage 19], not just tomorrow. It gives us a picture for the next round. We're in the perfect place."
But confidence understandably resonated from the Sky camp too, with team principal Dave Brailsford, who allowed the team to celebrate its first Tour yellow jersey on Saturday with champagne, insisting the Tour will not be won or lost in Monday's stage.
"The time trial is a big day in this Tour, but every day is important," Brailsford said. "I think all the time trials are important during this Tour. We will see how significant [Monday's] will be."