The first major summit finish of the Giro d'Italia is always its first great test, and as he has done at every major rendezvous of the race to date, Cadel Evans (BMC) passed himself present and correct at Altopiano di Montasio on stage 10.
Guarded about his aspirations since the start in Naples, Evans has been consistent through the opening half of the Giro and he continued in that vein in Friuli on Tuesday, matching maglia rosa Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) pedal stroke for pedal stroke on the vertiginous slopes of the final climb to retain second place overall.
While Nibali did manage to snaffle 12 seconds away from Evans in time bonuses to extend the overall margins to 43 seconds, the Australian had the considerable consolation of gaining ground on Bradley Wiggins (Sky), Robert Gesink (Blanco) and Michele Scarponi (Lampre-Merida).
"I feel tired like after any mountain stage, but I'm happy to have passed the first real mountain day and hold my place in general classification," Evans said in the mixed zone afterwards. "I conceded a little bit of time to Nibali of course. It's probably not going to be a big deal at the end, but I would rather not concede time, although to maintain my position at this point is still very good."
When stage winner Rigoberto Uran (Sky) zipped off the front with eight kilometres of climbing to go, Evans opted to maintain a watching brief and he stuck closely to Nibali when the road began to kick up in earnest inside the final four kilometres. Even in the face of Domenico Pozzovivo's (Ag2r-La Mondiale) sharp accelerations - which put Wiggins in difficulty - Evans never lost sight of Nibali and finished the stage in the same time as the Sicilian in fifth place.
"Nibali is the rider I have to focus on at this point considering my position in classification. Every day that passes it's looking more and more that way," Evans said. "But really we're not even halfway into this Giro yet so it's still very early to say."
Evans only announced his decision to ride the Giro in late March after insisted through the early season that he had eyes only for the Tour de France. In spite of his supposedly limited preparation, however, Evans said that he was not surprised by his performances to date.
"No, I worked hard to be here as best I could," Evans said. "Like I've been saying, it's not something I had planned from the beginning of the year but in five or six weeks of work I did everything I could to be here as good as I could. So far so good."
In Naples 10 days ago, Evans enigmatically said that he was at the Giro to "respect the race and prepare for the Tour" and suggested that a podium finish would be the summit of his ambitions. Given Evans' consistency to date, which has placed him in the red jersey of points classification leader, might his ambitions be revised upwards?
"Oh, we'll see," said Evans coyly. "We've still got a lot of mountain stages to go and maintaining position will be the first objective and then we'll see from there."
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