LIEGE, Belgium — Cadel Evans thinks one Tour de France title will make it easier to win another. And he's ready to add that second one.
Evans opens his title defense today when the 99th edition of cycling's marquee race begins with a quick, 4-mile prologue in Liege, Belgium.
The Tour offers a welcome return to racing after cycling's doping ghosts returned this month, with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency charging that Lance Armstrong used performance-enhancing drugs en route to his seven Tour victories. He denies doping and never failed a 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. Evans was already playing down expectations.
"It starts on a stage that isn't so suited to me," the BMC team leader said Friday. "But from here on in, it's all systems go."
He adds: "Knowing that we have already won one, it makes it quite a little bit easier. … You don't have this question of doubt: 'Maybe I can win it, maybe I can't?' We know we can."
Many analysts are predicting a two-way showdown between Evans and Britain's Bradley Wiggins, who said he senses through social media how many fans back in Britain are behind him.
"In England … every child's dream is to lift the FA Cup at Wembley or whatever," Wiggins said. "This is my Wembley."
Meanwhile, American George Hincapie begins the Tour for a record 17th time, part of Evans' team. If Hincapie rides into Paris when the race ends July 22, the 6-foot-3 New Yorker will match Dutchman Joop Zoetemelk with a record 16 completed Tours.
"It's such a hard race. People don't understand what riders go through in three weeks of the Tour de France," said Hincapie, who turned 39 Friday and plans to retire after the season.
Hincapie's 16 Tours and the 14 stages he finished in 1996 add up to almost 38,000 miles — or one and a half times around the Earth.