BMC's Cadel Evans is racing the Giro d'Italia in 2013. It's a move that has left many pondering just what it means for the former Tour de France winner. Before heading into the 2011 Tour de France he said: "I feel well-prepared for July and fresher than the last couple of seasons." Prior to 2010, the Giro had appeared on Evans' program in 2002 and never in tandem with the Tour. So what makes 2013 different if he is a genuine contender for a second Tour de France victory?
"I think for me it's going to be a bit of an experiment and I'm as interested as anyone to see how it goes and the main thing is that I go to the Giro and try and do as best as I can," Evans admitted to Cyclingnews at the Giro del Trentino.
A virus effectively ended any hopes the Australian had of repeating his Tour de France victory last season and put a dint in his build up for 2013. Still, signs have so far been mildly encouraging without scaling the heights of his run in to the 2011 grand boucle when he won Tirreno - Adriatico, Tour de Romandie and then finished second in the Critérium du Dauphiné. So far this season, third overall at the Tour of Oman and then eighth overall at Trentino, have provided some reason to be optimistic for July, but it's still a long way from being optimal with his race form not coming together as Evans would have hoped. And so BMC went back to the drawing board and proposed the Giro be added to his schedule with the announcement made on March 30.
Joining Evans for the 2012 Tour was all-rounder Steve Cummings in an arguably stronger team line up than previous, with the Briton forcing his way into the team off the back of the Tour de Suisse. The plan this time around was to have Cummings with Evans again during the Tour but the 32-year-old's packed schedule meant that he too will ride the Giro but not now go on to France.
"[I was] A little bit [surprised]," Cummings admitted to Cyclingnews at the news that Evans would ride both grand tours.
"Sometimes things don't always go as planned so you have to adapt and he's pretty good at that."
When the Giro departs from Naples on Saturday, Evans will have had around five weeks of dedicated preparation under his belt. It's a very different build up from those expected to be fighting for the maglia rosa, the likes of Wiggins, Nibali and Hesjedal, who have spent the last six-odd months in search of the required condition for three weeks that's said to be balanced.
"On one hand getting ready for the Tour, the Giro's great. On the other hand, I really like the Giro," Evans explained. "I'm a competitive rider; I have a competitive instinct and I want to do well at the Giro. I do what I can to be as good as I can but also I just have to be realistic," he said with the Giro's contenders in mind.
Asked if there is a risk involved in taking on the Giro, given his major objective for the season remains over the horizon, Evans is frank.
"Certainly," he replied.
Looking back on 2010
It may be the only example that Evans has to draw on, but the experience of 2010 and riding both the Giro and the Tour is not something that the 36-year-old is necessarily comfortable with.
"It's hard for me to say," he admitted.
Third in the opening stage individual time trial and into the leader's jersey after stage 2, Evans began the 93rd edition of the corsa rosa in promising fashion. A pile-up and a lack of team support cost Evans the race lead the next day but on the muddy roads of Tuscany on Stage 7 to Montalcino, Evans prevailed for the win, using his mountain-biking nous in the challenging conditions. Four days later and a 262km day in the saddle in rain-soaked conditions would prove Evans' undoing.
"Unfortunately the night before the stage to L'Aquila, I went to bed with a temperature," he explained after the race not wanting it to become an excuse throughout. "I had a 38.8C and woke up the morning after with 38.0C. The team doctor advised me to go home... The day after I still felt ill and also had stomach problems. I was forced to eat plain rice for a few days and after that I never felt as good as I had earlier in the race."
Evans would fight back to eventually finish fifth overall and with the points jersey in hand in what would prove a historic Giro for Australians with Matthew Lloyd and Richie Porte claiming the mountains and young rider classifications respectively.
Moving on to the Tour de France, the after-effects of the virus had taken a toll but on the day he would take the race lead in Morzine-Avoriaz, Evans also crashed with the full extent of his injuries not coming to light until after a rest day and an emotional day in yellow was done and dusted. A broken elbow ended any chance he had of winning the Tour and he would go on to finish 25th overall.
"I've done it before but I don't like to use that as a measure because obviously that's not what I plan to happen in 2013," he conceded.
Paris in focus
Marcus Burghardt has ridden every Tour de France alongside Evans since 2010, a regular sight and an element of calm by the Australian's side in the chaos of the peloton. For the German, there was no question of concern over the shock decision to ride the Giro with the end-game very much the French Grand Tour.
"I am not so much focused on Cadel's preparation," Burghardt told Cyclingnews. "I follow his races but it's his decision what he is racing and how he is getting in shape. I'll do my preparation before and we're going to get a good team together for the Tour."
The decision to ride the Giro may be hazardous, but there is also one element that Evans can rely upon.
"If you're there for GC you have to stay in the front whether you're good or bad and that can sometimes push you a bit further than what you otherwise would have pushed so you can control things," Evans told Cyclingnews, welcoming the rise in intensity of the three-week battle.
Not as difficult as 2010, but still challenging enough as the final week of racing draws near, Evans explained that this too would work in his favour, given the Tour de France is his major objective.
"Hopefully that's going to favour us to do Giro and the Tour," he said.
"The block in the third week looks pretty important to me. The mountain time trial is going to be important but also the middle week, you're going to be ready for the mountains by the time you get to the third week that's for sure. You're going to be ready for the mountains or you're going to be well out of contention, that's probably the way it's going to be."
And with that comes the key to Evans even being on the start line in the first place. Evans is not racing the Giro d'Italia to hold the distinctive spiralled trophy aloft come May 26 in Brescia, as he was in 2010.
"I'm not putting bets on myself for the pink jersey in Brescia put it that way," he chuckled.
Burghardt made it clear that despite speculation that Tejay van Garderen would be pushing Evans for team leadership come July, the focus was very much on the incumbent with BMC ensuring he had all the resources necessary for the task.
"It's not only me in the team who can do a good job in the front," he said. "We also have other strong riders and they'll also do their job and they're there for Cadel. We're going to try and help him as much as possible."
It was a sentiment echoed by Cummings.
"He's Cadel and he always wants to race hard so we'll try and protect him," explained the Brit. "Whether it be for GC or stages; whatever he decides, he's capable."