Cadel Evans (BMC) may already have some racing in his legs thanks to his participation in Challenge Mallorca, GP di Lugano and Strade Bianche, but the Australian’s 2012 campaign begins in earnest at Tirreno-Adriatico on Wednesday.
Overall winner of the race last season, Evans played down the importance of repeating that triumph this time around, but acknowledged that Tirreno-Adriatico would provide him with a firm indication as to his current state of form as he builds towards his Tour de France title defence.
"My first goal is to see how my fitness is," Evans explained. "I've worked reasonably well towards it. To repeat last year's result here would be an ultimate gauge of my fitness. But we'll first test my fitness and then see the result."
Evans excelled on all terrains in central Italy last year, as he moved into the overall lead on the rugged stage to Castelraimondo, won the hilltop finish in Macerata and then sealed victory with a solid showing in the final time trial.
While week-long consistency will again be required in 2012, the presence of the tough summit finish at Prati di Tivo on stage five may well alter the tactical approach of a number of the contenders for overall victory. Rather than chasing bonus seconds each day, some may look to keep their powder dry for the long haul to the summit of the climb in Abruzzo.
"It makes it a real climber's race because it's a long climb, maybe 15 kilometres," Evans said. "That's going to change the race from last year a lot and be one of the most important days for the general classification”
Evans is joined in Italy by a strong BMC line-up, which includes the spine of the team that will compete at Milan-San Remo on March 17. Alessandro Ballan, Philippe Gilbert, Greg Van Avermaet, George Hincapie, Manuel Quinziato, Michael Schär and Marco Pinotti will flank Evans in the team time trial, which kicks off proceedings at Donoratico on Wednesday.
Remarkably, the expensively-assembled BMC squad is still without a victory in 2012.
"We'll see day-by-day how things go, but we have riders for all stages and we can even go with some attacks," said directeur sportif Fabio Baldato, who also expects Marco Pinotti to be among the overall contenders on the climb to Prati di Tivo.