Giro countdown: six days to Belfast
Cadel Evans needed some time to accept that the BMC team wanted him to forget about the Tour de France in 2014 and focus on the Giro d'Italia. But with less than a week to go to the start in Belfast, the veteran Australian appears ready to fight for the race leader's iconic pink jersey.
Thanks to his Grand Tour experience, the impressive form he showed to win the Giro del Trentino and the guaranteed support he will get from a strong and dedicated BMC team, Evans is arguably the favourite for this year's Giro d'Italia.
He will have to fight with Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) on the many mountain finishes but Evans showed at the Giro del Trentino that he could climb and even out climb the likes of Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and Michele Scarponi (Astana) in the mountains.
"The team decided that I wasn't doing the Tour and that I should focus on the Giro. I didn't have a lot of choice but I accepted it and realised that it was a weight off my shoulders. Ten years is a long time and fortunately I managed to win one Tour, so I have to be satisfied with that," Evans said at the recent Giro del Trentino.
"I've thought back to my first Giro d'Italia in 2002 and I wanted to come back and prepare properly for it really well. We've got a strong team backing me and I hope to do well."
"We'll see how the legs go against the other guys before saying how much I like the route. But the route is hard, the Giro is always the hardest Grand Tour route. There are a lot of mountain finishes and I know I've got to be up there for three weeks and be good in the mountain time trial and individual time trial too."
A weight off his shoulders
Not having to worry about the Tour de France seems to be a weight off Evans' shoulders that can only help him to enjoy his racing and his season much more.
Evans has dedicated a decade of his life to the Tour de France yet his ties to the Giro d'Italia are much stronger. He may live in Switzerland but his wife Chiara is from across the border in Northern Italy and he made his Grand Tour debut at the 2002 Giro d'Italia, where he took the pink jersey and then lost it to Paolo Savoldelli after cracking in spectacular style the mountains.
Evans finished fifth overall and won in the mud and rain on the dirt roads of Tuscany in 2010 while wearing the rainbow jersey. He returned last year to finish third overall despite a late call up and a plan to use the Giro to find his best form for the Tour de France after fighting a mysterious virus in 2012.
"2002 was the first Grand Tour in my life. I thought I even had a chance of winning it in the third week but then I suddenly ran out of energy, just before the end," Evans recalled in an interview with the Corriere Dello Sport newspaper.
"Winning in 2010 was my best Giro stage win, while 2013 went well because I hadn't prepared perfectly for it because I was focused on the Tour de France."
A good 2014 and a strong team
Evans started off the 2014 season in fine style, finishing second to Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) at the Australian national championships and at the Tour Down Under, where he won a stage. He suffered in the mountains at Tirreno-Adriatico and quit the March race before the final time trial as Alberto Contador triumphed, but seems to have rediscovered the consistency and fighting spirit that has given him such a long and successful career.
The thought that the virus could still return and ruin the final part of his career still worries Evans but his performance at the Giro del Trentino has made him and the BMC quietly confident as the Giro d'Italia approaches.
Evans appears to have lost some muscle bulk from his frame and now spins a lower gear instead of churning the pedals and fighting the pain. He will have to find to limit his losses on the mountain finishes but can gain time on his rivals in the opening team time trial and the 41.9km time trial between Barbaresco and Barolo.
BMC has selected Brent Bookwalter, Steve Morabito, Manuel Quinziato. Daniel Oss, Danilo Wyss, Yannick Eijssen, Ben Hermans and Samuel Sanchez to support Evans, with Sanchez a valuable and on form lieutenant. Only Sanchez perhaps has the climbing ability to be with Evans in key moments in the mountains but the riders have the legs to defend the pink jersey if needed.
Evans stayed in the Dolomites for a few days as he recovered after the Giro del Trentino. He studied some of the key mountain stages, let his success sink in and his confidence develop. He will travel to Belfast with his teammates on Tuesday ready for the opening team time trial on Friday.
"Good results in Trentino are always promising towards the Giro and it was great to see the team come well together," he said of his teammates. "Trentino was a great test for the Giro. We wanted to race hard before the Giro d'Italia and winning is always good. We were under pressure everyday but we responded well."
Last year Vincenzo Nibali dominated the Giro del Trentino and then went on to win the Giro d'Italia.
"I hope to maintain that tradition," Evan said.
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