Paris: Cadel Evans would be the first to admit that, after just two Tour de France stages, it`s far too early to be thinking of victory in the world`s toughest and most exacting bike race.
But the former two-time runner-up boosted his hopes for the second consecutive day Sunday when his BMC team stormed to a second place finish in the team time trial, leaving the Australian 2sec short of pulling on the yellow jersey.
"We`ve been quietly working away, doing our homework and keeping at it," said the former world road champion, who is now third overall at 1sec behind Thor Hushovd.
"Our first goal was not to lose any time and our second goal was to actually gain time. The fact that we were actually there, nearly in the running for the win, was really something."
Beaten by highly-fancied Garmin by only four seconds, Hushovd, who succeeded Evans as world road race champion, will wear the yellow jersey in the third stage on Monday.
Evans and fellow yellow jersey contender Andy Schleck, meanwhile, were giving deserved pats on the back after a 23 km team effort that left reigning champion Alberto Contador further adrift.
Contador had lost 1min 17sec and 1:14 to Evans and Schleck respectively due to a crash Saturday, and suffered another setback when his Saxo Bank team finished 28sec behind Garmin Sunday.
He is now respectively 1:41 and 1:38 behind Evans and Schleck, both of whom share the past four runner-up places in the race.
While Contador has promised to fight on, he said he could no longer be considered the race favourite.
"I`m nearly two minutes off the pace and Andy is very strong in the mountains, and the past Tour titles have been won by a matter of seconds," said Contador, who beat Schleck by 39secs in 2010 and Evans by 23sec in 2007.
"Evans is a solid rider who can take time off other rivals. I think they are now the two favourites."
Schleck`s Leopard-Trek team also finished just four seconds behind Garmin -- the same margin as BMC and third placed Team Sky.
The Luxemburger said: "We proved we are a solid team and that we have good chemistry. This is important when we are fighting to win the Tour.
"In the general classification, we are now ahead of several big teams. This was a good day for us."
Evans finished runner-up in both 2007 and 2008 however the past two years the Australian has finished beyond 20th overall.
A disastrous team time trial performance by his former team Silence-Lotto early on the 2009 edition was the first of several setbacks which left him way out of contention.
Last year Evans battled to a fine fifth place finish at the Giro d`Italia, only for a crash early on the Tour to leave him with a fractured elbow.
Despite taking the race lead for a day, he eventually finished the race physically and mentally crushed and happy just to reach Paris for a sixth time.
Although missing the yellow jersey again, Evans` result could be a blessing in disguise as Garmin will now bear the burden of protecting the race lead in the coming days.
BMC team manager John Lelangue said: "We only missed the victory by a few seconds and the yellow jersey by a few seconds, but we are happy to be in this situation."