By Alasdair Fotheringham
SAINT VALLIER, France (Reuters) - Australia's Tour de France champion Cadel Evans confirmed his rising form with a gutsy win in Monday's stage one of the Criterium du Dauphine.
The BMC rider sheered away with France's Jerome Coppel and Kazakh Andrey Kashechkin less than five kilometers from the finish of the hilly stage from Seyssins to Saint Vallier and a prolonged drive for the line gave Evans his first victory since the Criterium International in March.
Coppel was second and Kashechkin third while last year's winner Bradley Wiggins moved into the overall lead.
"I'm a racer and I like to race, but to win a lot of things had to go my way today," Evans told reporters.
"Sometimes you make things go your way and you search for the opportunities and you have to try for something somewhere.
"Sometimes you have to be patient but today I had a chance and I took it," added the 35-year-old.
Evans rejected suggestions that after losing time to Wiggins, one of his key rivals for next month's Tour, in the prologue, he was on a mission to prove his form to the Briton.
"We've come here like every year to do a bit of a test and to do some work," said Evans, a runner up four times in the Criterium du Dauphine.
"We want to get the best result overall.
"Losing six seconds yesterday (in the prologue) against the specialists already wasn't so bad a result on a course like that, but winning is even better for my team's confidence and for me."
Overnight race leader Luke Durbridge of Australia was dropped on the final third-category climb of Cote de la Sizeranne, leaving the road clear for Wiggins, 61st on the stage, to move into the number one spot.
He leads by one second from Evans, whilst the Ukraine's Andrey Grivko is in third, two seconds back.
If two big favorites for the Tour, Evans and Wiggins, showed their strength today, Andy Schleck of Luxembourg confirmed he was struggling with form after losing over three minutes on the final climb.
Spain's Olympic road race champion Samuel Sanchez, winner of the King of the Mountains category in the Tour last year, finished more than 23 minutes back after crashing in the first hour and suffering a suspected fractured rib.
The Criterium du Dauphine finishes on Sunday in Chatel.
(Editing By Alison Wildey)