Australia’s Cadel Evans is racing the Vuelta a España for the first time in five years this August - but not, for the first time in years, for his own general classification bid. Rather Evans is racing in support of his BMC teammate Samuel Sánchez.
“I actually come here with no big expectations, rather I’m the second guy for Samuel Sánchez,” the former Tour de France winner told Cyclingnews.
“I’m actually pretty calm about it all, I’ve got to find my way a little bit, because it’s been ten years since I’ve been to a Grand Tour without being expected to win it. It’s kind of nice.”
Asked if this will be his last Grand Tour - with a possible retirement widely rumoured but in no way confirmed - Evans, 37, said no decision had yet been made on his future.
“I’m concentrating on riding well here and then looking at things after this Vuelta. I want to see how my body recovers and reacts in the third week before I make any firm decisions.”
Evans last rode the Vuelta in 2009, finishing third overall behind Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and, coincidentally, Samuel Sánchez. He led the race for one day before Valverde took over - the Spaniard first gaining the golden leader's jersey by snatching a time bonus, then broadening his advantage all the way to Madrid. This time round, although Evans is not pushing himself into the limelight, two stage wins in the Tour of Utah suggest strongly that the Australian veteran is in good shape for cycling’s third Grand Tour.
If double wins in Utah were not already good enough reason for his morale in Spain this August, Evans can also draw encouragement with the knowledge that the Vuelta’s first mountain top finish comes on the slopes of the same climb where he took one of his least-known wins, at La Zubia, in the Vuelta a Andalusia 2008. However, there is one big difference: six years ago Evans won on a finish located on the road shortly after the climb began, rather than tackling its harder upper segments as the Vuelta will do.
For the record, La Zubia’s climb is, in fact, exclusively (and somewhat oddly) Lotto ‘property’ for now, with their former rider Serge Baguet the last (and as far as can be established) the only winner at the Cumbres Verdes summit, taking his debut career win there in the 2005 Vuelta a Andalusia.
Dario Cioni then clinched with another Lotto win in the same race and on the same climb in 2007, whilst Evans, also with Lotto at the time, continued the rather unpredictable tradition of Belgian team success in bike races finishing in La Zubia with his victory, again for Lotto, in 2008.
Both Cioni and Evans, however, won at the foot of the hardest part of the ascent, just outside the village rather than at the top of the climb (on the same road) in the outlying La Zubia township of Cumbres Verdes as will happen next Thursday.
“It starts steep, but that year we only did 800 metres or a kilometre, so this time it’s going to be about the legs rather than the timing like it was in the Ruta del Sol [the other name for the Vuelta a Andalusia - Ed.] back then. We come with a different field, too, the lineup this year in the Vuelta is really impressive.” - and Evans will no doubt give it 100 per cent to make his mark on the Vuelta, too.