At the tail end of his illustrious career, Cadel Evans naturally hopes for a seamless transition into retirement – although there is one "problem" he won't mind facing. After finishing his last off-season training in the hills of the Yarra Valley north-east of Melbourne, Evans (BMC) spoke of the first of his last three races – the Australian men's elite road race championship at Buninyong, Victoria on Sunday.
The 2011 Tour de France champion is rightly one of the major favourites for the event, having placed second last year to Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge), who is absent this year due to a broken collarbone sustained in a recent mountain bike crash.
Word is that Evans is in great condition and even at his 2011 Tour winning weight. Although, he faces stiff competition with Richie Porte (Sky) – last year's bronze medallist – Michael Rogers (Tinkoff-Saxo), Cameron Meyer (Orica-GreenEdge), Adam Hansen (Lotto-Belisol), Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEdge) in the reckoning.
So … if Evans won, what of the jersey?
Were Evans to win the 183.6km race, he would receive the Australian champion's jersey that he would be required to wear in all his races for the ensuing year. And in that case, his fans would at least see him race in the jersey at the Tour Down Under and at his last race, the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race on February 1.
But if Evans were to win the jersey and provide a fairytale ending to his career, who could really begrudge the jersey – in this instance - not being worn in Europe for a year? And who is to say Evans would not 'honour' it in his own way during the year?
Evans, 37, would clearly love to win and have the green and gold jersey. Asked what would happen to it after February 1 if he did, Evans said: "That is a problem I would like to have."
But as he reminded: "There is quite a way to go before that. There are quite a few other people eyeing that jersey – with a few more teammates as well."
Not that Evans will be racing on his own – as he did last year in what turned out to be a thrilling race that ended with a star-studded podium of Gerrans, Evans and Porte.
For Sunday's race, Evans will at least have two BMC riders by his side - Rohan Dennis, who will attempt the hour record on February 8, and first year professional Campbell Flakemore, who won the under 23 world time trial championship last year.
How strong is Orica-GreenEdge without Gerrans?
With Gerrans absent due to his broken collarbone, Evans said he believes that Orica-GreenEdge will still hold the balance of power with eight riders in the start list.
"Orica go there to not lose it, that's for sure. They won't have Simon Gerrans of course, but they will still have a big advantage in numbers," Evans told Cyclingnews. "And because of that advantage in numbers they can really dictate the race which puts a bit of a stranglehold on the way the race goes"
But with Evans having two teammates, he will have a better chance than last year.
An interesting factor could be where the five-time National Road Series team champions, Avanti, places their focus – without a major contender they might well back their former alumnus Porte, who only has Nathan Earle as a Sky teammate, who won Thursday's men's elite time trial title, or Steele von Hoff, who won Wednesday's men's elite criterium championship and after being let go by Garmin-Sharp (now Cannondale-Garmin) rides for the British Continental NFTO team.
On Wednesday, von Hoff said he is desperate for an impressive ride on Sunday to earn selection in the UniSA-Australia team for the Tour Down Under (January 17-22.)
"I think it's going to be a little more spread out in terms advantage of Richie … and three of us at BMC. At least it's not one against 10 like last year which should make it a bit more interesting. But it will still be an Orica-GreenEdge controlled event."
With a favourite like Gerrans absent, an early break could stay away. And such a prospect could prompt any billing contender to go earlier than planned, especially with Orica-GreenEdge having numbers to cover most of the key breakaways.
"It can go either way. Do you play in the start or wait for the finish?" Evans said. "Last year, I played a bit at the start and was there at the finish, but I was a bit empty at the finish. It didn't work in my favour.
"That's where racing when there are so many guys in one team is a little difficult."
Rupert Guinness is a sports writer for The Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media)
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