Cadel Evans (BMC) has emphasised that this week's Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège are stepping stones to what he hopes is overall victory at the Giro d'Italia, but he thinks that he could be stronger than ever before for this year's Ardennes classics after a two-week training camp at altitude in the Sierra Nevada.
Despite being World Champion, Evans sacrificed his chances to help teammate Karsten Kroon at the Amstel Gold Race but he will team leader at BMC for both Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
"My season is a bit changed around this year. I normally build up for the Ardennes week, have a break and then build up for the Tour de France. This year I'm slowly building for the Giro," he said talking to a group of journalists in Liege on Tuesday afternoon.
"I'm not going 100 percent flat out this week because I've got to get progressively better for the Giro d'Italia. But I've come here quite well prepared because I've come here after a training camp. Riding a lot of mountains is good for making you strong for races like these."
Evans has studied the new finale of Flèche Wallonne and climbed the Mur for the first time out of the competition. It reminded him that timing the final effort is decisive for victory.
"I look at it with a whole different perspective now. It seems longer than I thought it was," he said. "When you ride in the race, it passes by really quickly. Now it seems longer. We'll see what it's really like tomorrow."
"I think I've been second, ninth and fifth or something. If you don't know it you go early and get caught, or you wait late, get swamped and can't get out. I think my best year was two years ago. I went early but then Kirchen came past me but that was a bit different because of the rain."
Evans revealed he was happy to see Philippe Gilbert win the Amstel Gold Race. He also named his former teammate as his favourite for both Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
"I'd have preferred Karsten (Kroon) to win the race because he's my teammate, but I'm a big Philippe Gilbert fan. I like him. He's a good guy and loves racing his bike too. That's refreshing," Evans said.
"A lot of people say it's too steep for him but the attacks he did on the Cauberg and in Lombardy mean he'll be good. I'm going to be watching him. Other favourites are (Alejandro) Valverde, (Damiano) Cunego, Andy (Schleck) maybe and perhaps a dozen others."
"It's a funny finish. You get there and think this guy is going good and then he blows, then someone else goes off and wins. I don't pay much attention to who 'might' be going good. The key to the Mur is being very, very strong. It's pretty hard to get into a good position at the start of the climb and then you get to the steep bit and that puts you on the limit for the rest of it. That means it's for a rider, as my coach (Aldo Sassi) says, for lactate riders. Then it gets long and the climbs before it are more for aerobic climbers. It makes a balanced race."
Happy being involved in the decision making process at BMC
Evans is clearly happier and more relaxed at the new BMC team. He revealed he is more involved in the decision making process at the Swiss-sponsored, US-registered team. That did not seem to be the case when rode with Silence-Lotto.
"I wasn't enjoying the way things weren't being effectively planned and carried out. That made life a bit difficult for me," Evans said.
"I'm one who focuses on 'this is the performance I'm capable off, this is what I want to do and how do I do it'. I wasn't able to do that (at Silence-Lotto). That was frustrating as a professional."
"I noticed that there was as bit of change in the team towards me after I lost the Tour de France to Carlos Sastre. I did what I could and in my mind it was the best Tour I'd ever ridden. After that I felt there wasn't a lot of confidence in me."
Despite a surprise bitter divorce last winter, when Evans used a clause in his contract to leave the team, he insists he has no regrets about his time with the Belgian team.
"No not at all. Lotto gave me a great opportunity in 2005 to go for the Tour de France. I never even got a start with Telekom. I was grateful and always well paid," he said.
"I just think priorities changed at the end of the year. I wanted to keep going and get better than second in the Tour. That takes a lot of work and a lot of resources, people and riders put behind it. It felt there was a bit of confidence lacking in that after 2008. I don't mind if they don't back me, that's fine. Just don't compromise my career in doing so."
"At BMC my opinion is really valued if it's for selecting riders or the direction of the team. I take that as respect and is nice to be part of that. I think there's a really good line of communication between the lead riders and management. Everyone's ideas and thoughts are communicated and decision made with a little bit of everyone's input."
BMC is an ambitious team and Evans knows there have been rumours about Fabian Cancellara and even Frank and Andy Schleck joining the team in 2011. He dismissed them as such.
"They're ambitious, especially (team owner) Andy Rihs. They want to be at the lead of races like Paris-Roubaix and the Tour de France," Evans said.
"I don't know if me and the Schlecks could fit in the same team because we all go for the same races. For that to work we'd have to have a lot of trust and agreement together. But personally I don’t have any problems at all. I know Fabian from the Mapei days. But they're all rumours at this stage of the season."