It could all come down to stage 12’s individual time trial for Cadel Evans (BMC) in his bid to become the first Australian to win the Giro d’Italia – professional cycling’s second most prominent and respected Grand Tour behind the iconic Tour de France, which Evans won in 2011.
Evans has comfortably held the leader’s slot since slipping into the maglia rosa on stage eight. It followed Orica-GreenEdge’s stranglehold of the pink jersey over the first seven stages – including fellow Australian Michael Matthews’ six-day reign atop the general classification before conceding the lead to Evans. Matthews later and pulled out of the race after stage 10 due to injuries sustained in crash on stage nine.
The 37-year-old Evans takes a 57-second lead over Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) into the 41.9-kilometre time trial from Barbaresco to Barolo and, according to Australian cycling legend Phil Anderson, Evans will be looking to bank vital time heading into the final week of arduous climbing starting with the Alps this weekend.
“I don’t think Thursday is a make or break stage,” said Anderson – who became the first non-European to wear the Tour’s Maillot Jaune in 1981. “However, Cadel knows every second gained now will greatly benefit his chances of hanging on the leader’s jersey to the end. It’s better for Cadel to have seconds in the pocket rather than having to pull it back later and success tonight could take the pressure off him later in the race.”
The 2009 World Champion is no stranger to decisive time trial performances affecting his Grand Tour-general classification hopes. In 2011, Evans overtook Andy Schleck in the GC by 1 minute 34 seconds after finishing second in stage 20 of the Tour de France en route to becoming the first Australian to win the Tour.
This came three years after Evans, a pre-race favourite, came up 58 seconds short to eventual 2008 Tour winner Carlos Sastre after a disappointing time trial on stage 17.
“Cadel has always been a solid time triallist, and he has improved since his early Tour days,” Anderson told Cyclingnews. “He is going into stage 12 as a favourite amongst the GC riders, and may just win it outright.
“He is also riding with the support of a solid team,” said Anderson of Evans’ BMC squad who is missing Belgian Yannick Eijssen after a nasty spill on stage 10.
“Unlike last year, his teammates are committing fully to Cadel,” said Anderson referring to Evans’ third place finish behind race winner Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and Uran. “BMC is not saving themselves for the Tour. I don’t think they are going to be riding for a yellow jersey at the Tour de France with [Tejay] van Garderen who has been struggling as of late. So they should be riding as if they are possessed by this pink jersey and die defending it.”
No Australian has ever won the Giro in its previous 96 editions since it began in 1909. Since then, only four other Australians besides Evans have ever worn the Maglia Rosa, including Richie Porte (three times), Bradley McGee (twice) and Robbie McEwen, Brett Lancaster and now Matthews.
"I think the time trial is always the race of truth but we’ve had a tough first week and this week. Although we had a rest day and a short stage, [Tuesday], we’ve also had a very long and intense stage today and I think that will have an effect on the performances of everyone in the time trial," said Evans on Wednesday evening.
"On paper it’s a course that suits me."