Cadel Evans (BMC) will wear number one at the Giro d'Italia and his recent performances and consistent history in the Grand Tours makes him the leading favourite for victory in this year's race.
Brett Lancaster was the last Australian to wear the maglia rosa after winning the prologue time trial in 2005 but Evans could become the first Australian to win the Giro d'Italia.
Evans wore the maglia rosa for a day in the 2002 Giro d'Italia but then lost it in spectacular style on the Passo Coe as he cracked and lost 15 minutes to eventual winner Paolo Savoldelli. That was eight years ago, at the beginning of Evans' transformation from world class mountain biker to Grand Tour contender and proud world champion.
Evans has not ridden the Giro d'Italia since 2002, preferring to focus on the Tour de France. But since quitting Silence-Lotto for BMC, his personal links to Italy and the conviction that he can be competitive in two Grand Tours have led to him targeting this year's race.
"Unfortunately I can still remember most of that day in 2002. Not every detail, but too much for sure," Evans joked recently during an interview, revealing his often unique sense of humour.
"It was the first Grand Tour I did in my career and now it feels right to go back. I really wanted to return to the Giro for lots of reasons. My coach is Italian, my wife's Italian, my family's Italian, I live two kilometres from the border and I like racing in Italy."
"Racing in Italy has been a key part of my progression in becoming a road rider. Last year I chose the Vuelta to be my best for the worlds but I always wanted to come back to the Giro. After changing team and joining BMC it fit in pretty well."
Two Grand Tours in one season
Evans often seems to be stronger in his second Grand Tour of the season. Others may peak for just three weeks in July, but he is able to hold his form for much longer. His victory at Fleche Wallonne showed he is already on form and while other riders will ride the Giro while keeping one eye on the Tour de France, he will be riding to win.
"Doing two Grand Tours in 2007 and 2009 worked for me," he said, hinting at his second place in the Tour de France and fourth in the Vuelta Espana and overall victory in the UCI ProTour in 2007 as well as his strong end of season in 2009.
"I'm not going to the Giro to train, I think racing at the front is as good as training. I'm going to try and do as good a Giro as I can.
"I can hold my form for a long period of time and I know I can recover from one and build up for a second one. It might not work but looking at things logically, there's no reason why I can’t peak again at the Tour de France, even if it goes against more conventional thinking."
Evans has made up for his lack of Giro d'Italia experience by studying many of the key stages. BMC held special training camps around other races to study the team time trial course to Cuneo and the stage to Montalcino that includes the Tuscan dirt roads. After the Ardennes Classics, Evans used a recovery phase at altitude in the Dolomites to check out many of the key climbs in the testing final week of this year's race.
He rode the Plan de Corones time trial course last week, admitting he had never seen anything like it.
"I've done everything I can to be good. Everyone says the Giro has changed in the last few years but we'll see," he said.
"The stages in the first half will still be important. Holland and the Strada Bianche stage are all difficult to manage. It's going to be really hard in the final week. The 2010 Giro has some incredible mountains: Plan de Corones, Monte Zoncolan, Mortirolo and the Gavia pass. As with any Grand Tour, being good every day will be important. Overall, it will take a versatile climber to win it."
Evans rightly picks three experienced riders as other favourites for the maglia rosa but knows enough about the Giro to expect some surprises.
"At the moment, I would say Ivan Basso, Carlos Sastre and Alexander Vinokourov. Then there are always one or two unexpected riders who come into the list during the race," he said.
If Evans emerges as overall winner after the terrible final week in the mountains and the final short time trial around Verona, it would be his first Grand Tour success and he would be the first Australian to ever win the Giro d'Italia.
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