When Cadel Evans lined up for the Giro d’Italia twelve months ago, it was with the Tour de France at the back of his mind, but this time around the Australian has eyes only for the corsa rosa following the definition of stage racing roles at his BMC team during the off-season.
Under Allan Peiper’s stewardship, Tejay van Garderen has been designated as the outright team leader for July, while Evans' season has been built around the Giro. Speaking at the pre-race press conference in Belfast on Wednesday, Evans acknowledged that he will not necessarily ride the Tour again before the end of his career.
"For me on a personal level, the Giro was the first grand tour that I did back in 2002 and now on a professional level, the team wants me to do the Giro and not the Tour, so obviously here I am at the Giro," Evans said, adding: "But on a personal level, that’s fine for me. I'm lucky that things came together in at least one of my Tours. I don’t know if I’ll race the Tour again but regardless of whether I do or not, I leave it reasonably satisfied and now I'm putting my energy into the Giro."
Evans' 2011 Tour victory was prefigured by an impressive early-season sequence that saw him land overall victory at Tirreno-Adriatico and the Tour de Romandie. While his current campaign has not quite matched those heights – he abandoned Tirreno through illness, for instance – it has still been his most consistent spring since that career year.
In particular, Evans will be buoyed by his overall victory at the Giro del Trentino two weeks ago, where a puncheur's stage win at Roncone was followed by a resolute defence of the pink jersey on Monte Bondone on the final day. “As a build-up to the Giro, the results have been a confirmation of the work I’ve done. We’re still a long way from Trieste but the preparation in Trentino was very encouraging,” he said.
Now 37-years-of-age, Evans will surely struggle to return to the same level as 2011 but he sounded an optimistic note about his chances of improving on his performances over the past two seasons. Although he surprised by riding to a podium finish on limited preparation at last year’s Giro, Evans explained that he was still suffering the knock-on effects from the virus that hampered his defence of the Tour in 2012.
"It was a new experience to try to ride well while I was ill. It was a very difficult moment,” he said. “When you work as hard as before, with the same dedication, and make the same sacrifices as before – or maybe even more – and then you perform a lot worse, then it’s hard to manage mentally. 2012 and 2013 were two very difficult years. I raced for six months in 2012 with a virus without even realising it. That was very hard but now everything seems to be back to the way it was before."
Into the unknown
Evans was joined by Rigoberto Uran, Nairo Quintana, Joaquim Rodriguez, Michele Scarponi and Nicolas Roche at the press conference for the Giro’s principal favourites at the Belfast Waterfront centre, where the line of questioning from local reporters naturally focused on the three stages in Ireland.
While Evans was careful to point out that he would defer to Roche’s local knowledge, he expects two nervous road stages to Belfast and Dublin at the weekend, particularly given the rain and wind forecast for the remainder of the week.
"Racing in Ireland is new to all of us and we don’t know how hard it will be," Evans said. "For those of us who are here for the general classification, it’s going to be very important not to lose time and that will be challenging.
"I think most of us will be riding a little bit into the unknown, we don’t really know these conditions. The main thing I’ve noted is that the roads are quite narrow, and with rain, wind and 180 riders in the field, well that’s a lot of riders competing for places on the front."
If Evans’ aim for the opening weekend of action will be to make it to Italy on a level pegging with the rest of the overall contenders, there are a string of key stages in the second half of the race – the summit finishes at Val Martello and the Zoncolan, and the two individual time trials – where he will have to be on song.
"They’re going to be the most difficult stages, and the stages where I need to be not just good but very good if I want to do something on the classification," he said.