Just 41 seconds separate Cadel Evans from the overall lead at the Giro d’Italia as the race faces into a crucial Alpine doubleheader this weekend, but “maglia rosa” seems something of a taboo expression on his BMC team for now.
Evans’ decision to ride the Giro was a late one – he announced his intentions scarcely six weeks before the start – and few would have anticipated that his challenge would outlast those of Bradley Wiggins (Sky) and Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp), who both abandoned the race ahead of stage 13.
As the Giro returns to the mountains on Saturday, Evans is the man best-placed to challenge the pink jersey, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), but on the eve of battle, directeur sportif Fabio Baldato preferred to speak simply of how the Australian’s general podium chances had improved following Wiggins’ withdrawal.
“The podium objective is closer, but we still have to keep an eye on [Rigoberto] Urán, [Robert] Gesink and a rider like [Michele] Scarponi because on the climbs they can do something good,” Baldato told reporters in Cherasco after stage 13. “We are closer to the podium, but we have to get to Brescia first.”
Never mind Brescia, the Giro gruppo must first navigate its way to the summit of the Galibier on Sunday. Snow is forecast for the weekend in the Alps, and while Saturday’s finish at Bardonecchia does not appear to be in doubt, there are concerns that stage 15’s spectacular finale atop the mighty Galibier – some 2642 metres above sea level – could fall by the wayside.
“We don't know, we have to wait to see what the organiser will do,” Baldato said. “I know they are trying to save the stages and keep them how they are. If they need to change them due to snow, it's about protecting the riders.”
Evans, unfortunately, was not available for comment on the weekend’s racing in the Alps. The Australian was quickly driven away in a team car as soon he emerged from the BMC bus after showering and he did not speak to the reporters waiting outside. It was instead left to Baldato to assess whether – possibly – missing out on the Galibier would favour Nibali’s defence of the pink jersey.
“I don't think so. Vincenzo's strong on the climbs, but I don't think it'll make a difference,” Baldato said. “I don't think it'll favour one or the other.”
Instead, Baldato believes, like many, that the tough final week, and the troika of tough stages in the Dolomites, in particular, will be the ultimate arbiter of the 2013 Giro d’Italia. The Polsa mountain time trial on stage 18 is followed by summit finishes at Val Martello and Tre Cime di Lavaredo.
“We will still have to fight until the last week, when we have other serious stages,” Baldato said. “It's the same, we still have to wait until the final mountain TT, and the two big last stages.”