Cadel Evans has taken everything that his rivals and three weeks of intense racing at the Giro d'Italia have thrown at him, yet he is still in the fight for the maglia rosa as the final decisive stages approach.
Evans has only four BMC teammates to help him take on Ivan Basso and the break the dominance of his Liquigas-Doimo team. Yet he is up for the challenge and does not care if he upsets the tifosi and becomes the foreigner that stops Basso becoming the next Italian to win the Giro d'Italia.
Evans is 42 seconds behind Basso in the overall classification. He still insists that current race leader David Arroyo Duran (Caisse d'Epargne) is a real threat to the Giro, but knows that he needs to focus on Basso and pull back time on him if he has any chance of snatching victory in the final 15km time trial stage around Verona.
"It's always better if I can gain time. I lost the Tour de France by 23 seconds once and so I know that every second counts. 42 seconds is still a good margin for Basso and it’s a really short final time trial. Being closing would be better," he said a few hours before the two decisive mountain stages.
"It's going to be close battle. I have to be very careful with how I spend my energy and make my efforts. I can’t leave much to chance. Liquigas has a really strong team and I'm here with just four teammates. I'm guessing that they will continue chipping away as they have done all race. It's been successful for them on the other selective stages. After that though, on the Mortirolo and the Gavia, it's going to be last man standing."
Evans studied all the climbs of the mountain stages during an altitude training camp after the Ardennes Classics. He hopes the Gavia will be open and the stage will go over it, despite predictions of bad weather and even possible snow. However he does not want a repeat of the legendary Gavia stage in 1988 when Andy Hampsten survived in the snow and set-up his overall victory in the Giro.
"Knowing the climbs helps but I think it is factors like the weather, how you arrive at the bottom of the climb and so that, that is going to count for the most in the end," he said. "We'll see what happens. Every stage in this Giro has been the opposite of what we've expected, so I'm ready for anything.
"Liquigas has several good climbers in their team and so they've got an advantage with the finish at Aprica,” he added. “I think the time trial is good for me but 15km isn't a lot to pull back time.
"Another legendary Gavia stage? I think we've had enough legendary stages in this Giro, thanks very much,” said Evans. “I don’t know the details of how Andy Hampsten won the Giro but if you've got to stop for hot tea, put on four jackets and let someone go because it's too cold, that makes the race a bit of a lottery. I'd rather race fairly with our heads and our legs than in those conditions.
“But who knows what will happen in this Giro," he concluded.