By Julien Pretot
PORTO VECCHIO, France (Reuters) - Cadel Evans may seem to be past his prime after a mediocre season last year but the Australian still believes he can win another Tour de France despite Team Sky's domination.
Evans, the first Australian to win the Tour in 2011, could not repeat the feat in 2012 when he finished seventh overall behind BMC team mate and U.S. prospect Tejay van Garderen, who took fifth place.
Sky's Bradley Wiggins took the title but Evans is at pains to point out that his flop was mainly down to illness.
"There is some short-term memory from the media, I had a virus last year and I still was seventh in the Tour de France," the 36-year-old told Reuters at the Criterium International in Corsica.
"Of course on paper Tejay was better than me but people seem to forget what I have done on the Tour de France in the six years preceding 2012."
Evans, who also finished runner-up in 2007 and 2008, is determined to stay number one at BMC and have another tilt at a Tour triumph.
"If I'm not sick and everything goes according to plan, yes (I will be team leader). Like I said there seems to be a short-term memory thing in the media, I did actually win the Tour once before," he said.
"That does sort of prove that I can do it."
So far this season, Evans has taken third place in the Tour of Oman behind Sky's Chris Froome and Spaniard Alberto Contador but he was never in contention at Tirreno-Adriatico, finishing 22nd and almost 10 minutes adrift of Italian Vincenzo Nibali.
"This year, it has been a long build-up after a year being sick and ill and so on, and having a break and recovering from that, he said.
"I have to take each day as it comes and I have to be cautious with my progression and training throughout the year.
"Like last year I did not perform well in Tirreno but I came here (to Corsica) and surprised myself," he said referring to his overall win in 2012's two-day Criterium International.
Evans is well-known as a gritty rider who rarely gives up.
"I had a virus last year and it changes everything at this point compared to 2011," he explained, preferring to compare 2013 to 2011.
"I haven't won any races yet (this year) so in that regard I'm behind but it's a slow and steady progress towards the Tour."
On the Tour, which will start in Corsica on June 29 and will suit pure climbers, Evans is confident he and his team can compete with Sky, whose domination was almost total at times last year and has continued in the first few months of 2013.
"They seem to be very, very well prepared for the early part of the season with two whole teams of strong climbers and in the mountains at least they can dictate their own terms," said Evans.
Sky will go to the Tour looking to retain their title, either through Britain's Froome or compatriot Wiggins, who has though made the Giro d'Italia his main goal this season.
Both will be helped by a small army of pure climbers such as Colombians Rigoberto Uran and Sergio Henao or talented all-rounders such as Australian Richie Porte, the Paris-Nice champion.
"Normally, putting guys at such a high level in the early season means you're going to pay for it later in the year, that would be the normal case - time will tell in that regard," said Evans.
"For now they are going to be hard to beat, they're the guys to beat.
"Going towards the Tour it seems that if Sky are going to ride like in 2012, the more guys you have in the mountains the better you're going to be."
(Editing by Mark Meadows)