Cadel Evans: Racing on dirt roads at the Giro d'Italia is like taking an F1 car to a rally

Cadel Evans and Alexander Vinokourov on the road to Montalcino on the 2010 Giro d'Italia.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Cadel Evans won the 2010 dirt road stage of the Giro d'Italia, sprinting to victory in Montalcino, with the mud and rain obscuring his world champion’s rainbow jersey.

A decade on, the Australian has doubts about dirt road stages in Grand Tours but, like everyone, will be watching Wednesday's stage 11 with fascination to see Egan Bernal clash with Remco Evenepeol, Aleksandr Vlasov and the rest on Tuscan gravel. 

"It’s a pity that a rider prepares for months for a Grand Tour and then risks losing everything for a puncture on the dirt roads but a stage like this is good for cycling," Evans told La Gazzetta dello Sport from his home in the Ticino part of Switzerland. 

"It’s going to be great to watch just like it was when I won. It’s as if cycling is going over its own history."

Evan won in 2010 after a tumultuous day of racing, when heavy rain and cold weather turned the stage into a battle of survival.

Vincenzo Nibali was wearing the leader’s maglia rosa but crashed before the first sector of dirt roads and was forced to chase all the way to the finish in Montalcino. Evans duelled with Alexander Vinokourov but was the strongest on the rising finish in the hilltop streets of Montalcino.

"I remember everything about the day and I’ve still got a photo of my victory at home because it was a unique moment," Evans recalled. 

"It was the first ever stage on the dirt roads and my first season with BMC as world champion. I’d studied every detail and done a recon ride of the route. Then the heavens opened and so they were perfect conditions for me. I was in my element. Other riders crashed, cracked in the cold or blew up. I stayed cool and rode my own race. I thought I could go on to win the Giro but I got ill and was dropped a few days later."

Evans dominated on the dirt roads thanks to his past as a world class mountain bike racer. He switched from racing at the mountain bike World Cup to WorldTour level racing and went on to win the 2011 Tour de France, the first Australian to win the yellow jersey. He won the rainbow jersey in Mendrisio in 2009, just a few hundred metres from where he lives today. 

Nowadays, switching disciplines seems the best way to be competitive in the Classics and extreme stages like today at the Giro d’Italia.   

"I started riding on the road to train for the mountain bike, then things switched over. I won in Montalcino thanks to the bike skills I learnt from racing mountain bikes," Evans said. 

"Today it's normal to see riders switch from cyclo-cross or mountain biking to road racing. Whoever does it is often better than their rivals."

Evans predicts the 35km of dirt roads in the final 70km of the stage to Montalcino could shake up the overall classification.

"I don’t know if it will decide the Giro but it could mean someone loses it," Evans warned. "It could eliminate someone who is not good on the dirt roads."

"It’s important to choose the right equipment to ride safely, not to ride fast. It’s also important to train on the dirt roads. Racing on the dirt roads is like taking an F1 car off-road for a rally. 

Evans has been impressed by Bernal and Vlasov but doubts Evenepoel can fight for overall victory after being out of action for nine months. 

"After what I saw in Abruzzo, Bernal seems on another level," Evans said.  

"Everyone else seems to be riding for second place. I’m also impressed with Vlasov. Evenepoel is strong but he doesn't have the experience of a three-week Grand Tour and that’s important. He hasn’t raced for nine months and so I see him finishing in the top five."

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