The leaden clouds that formed a low ceiling over the Langhe on Thursday afternoon seemed to match the outlook for Cadel Evans’ Giro d’Italia hopes following his defeat to Rigoberto Uran in the stage 12 time trial to Barolo.
Widely expected to buttress his overall lead during the 42.2km test, Evans instead conceded the maglia rosa to Uran, and slipped to second place, 37 seconds down. With the high mountains looming, it seemed as though the Australian’s prospects were growing increasingly limited.
In the warm sunshine of Fossano on Friday morning, however, BMC Racing Team directeur sportif Valerio Piva was happy to look at the situation from a different perspective, pointing out that Evans’ third place finish in the hilly time trial was broadly in keeping with the team’s expectations, as he gained 35 seconds on Domenico Pozzovivo and 1:07 on Nairo Quintana.
"We’re happy with Cadel’s performance. He did a good time trial, he did what he had to do, it’s just that Uran rode an exceptional time trial," Piva told Cyclingnews. "I wouldn’t have expected that from Uran but he was very strong and he’s in great condition. On paper, Cadel should have come out of the time trial with an advantage – and he has it on all of the others – but it’s just that Uran did an exceptional time trial."
Although he lined up as the overall contender with the most impressive time trialling back catalogue at this Giro, Evans’ greatest hits in the discipline came several years ago. Not since the 2011 Tour de France, perhaps, has the Australian made significant gains in a lengthy time trial.
"Everybody thought that Cadel should put minutes into everyone but honestly, if you look at the last few years, Cadel has never done time trials where he’s killed everybody else," Piva said. "He’s a good cronoman and he’s won a few time trials, but he’s not a Tony Martin who blows everyone away in time trials. He did a good time trial yesterday but he just came up against a great Uran."
Uran is capable of defending himself on all terrains – he claimed a silver medal at a London Olympics road race where Mark Cavendish was the pre-race favourite, after all – but his favoured terrain is in the high mountains. In that light, divesting the Colombian of the maglia rosa when there are six summit finishes in the final eight stages seems a tough proposition.
"Cadel will have to go on the attack because he needs to make up time to win this Giro, but you have to wait for the right moment," Piva said. "Maybe Uran might have a difficult moment, and you can lose the Giro in one day. Cadel has been up there every day, the team with him and we’ll continue on that line."
Piva maintained that Evans can take heart, too, from his victory at the recent Giro del Trentino, where he appeared to be climbing with greater agility than he had done since his 2011 Tour victory. "Cadel is much better prepared for the mountains than he was in previous years," he said. "He’s come here in top condition as he showed at Trentino when he dropped climbers like Pozzovivo, which shows that he’s ready for the mountains.
"It’s logical that the pure climbers who lighter than him are better suited to the mountains, but to win the Giro you have to be consistent, have experience and know how to recover. Cadel knows how to do this, and we’ll also have to see how Uran manages having the jersey in the days to come because that’s not easy."
A different Giro from now on
For his part, Evans admitted that there had been at least one benefit to life without the maglia rosa on the road to Rivarolo Canavese on stage 13. "It was a little bit more relaxed in the sense that for once we didn’t have to control the race and control who was in the breakaway," he said afterwards.
Evans also sounded an optimistic note about his prospects as the Giro enters the Alps, pointing out that from here on, the race will be increasingly conditioned by the favourites’ ability to recover day after day. "Now we get to the bigger mountains, and we’re also coming into the third week and that also changes everyone’s recovery and level of fatigue," he said. "I think we’ll see a different Giro from tomorrow on."
The weekend doubleheader features back-to-back summit finishes in honour of Marco Pantani – the first at Oropa and the second at Montecampione. On paper at least, Saturday’s stage seems the more demanding of the pair, with the tough Alpe Noveis and the climb to Bielmonte preceding the final haul to the line.
"For the most part, I’d expect that the main selection from the GC riders to come on the final climb but it’s not an easy ride to get there," Evans said. "So it will be interesting to see how that affects the teams of the GC contenders."