Cadel Evans knows he has taken a major risk by deciding only a month ago, to the surprise of many, to race the three-week Giro d’Italia starting in Naples next Saturday.
It means the 2011 Tour de France champion – a stickler for long-term planning – will back up from the 3405-kilometre Giro after its finish on May 26 to race the Tour, starting on June 29. Claiming the double is a challenge that attempts in recent years have indicated is arguably too hard, even when planned in detail. The last rider to win the Giro and Tour in the same year was Italian climber Marco Pantani in 1998.
Harder for Evans (BMC) is that he will race the Giro off a shortened preparation.
So why the late change in plan, announced on March 30, to include a three-week event before the Tour de France, rather than build up as normal with shorter races and training/reconnaissance camps?
Evans, who became the first Australian to win the Tour in 2011 but placed seventh last year, has heard all the speculation that his team leadership for the Tour is at risk of being lost to young American Tejay van Garderen (fifth and best young rider in 2012), and that racing the Giro is about fighting for his status, even though he and BMC have said he will be the No. 1 rider.
There have also been suggestions he is scrambling for a second grand tour win, in case he fails in the Tour, and that with his contract up next year, at 36 this may be one of his last chances.
But Evans is adamant the decision to compete in Italy is aimed at accruing the racing kilometres he lost after a virus impaired and ended his season last year, and that he will need to be at his best for the Tour de France.
Evans began this season well, finishing third in the Tour of Oman. But when his form failed to improve as expected in March at the Tirreno-Adriatico stage race in Italy, he realised the idea of racing the Giro, proposed by BMC management, was the best option to take.
”[It] is to recover the days racing lost last year because of the illness … and always to be at my best for the Tour,” Evans said.
”There is always an inherent risk that I will be overdone for the Tour, that I’ll have done too much racing; but I’d rather have done too much than too little. And I feel that making up for race days is what I need to get me back to my very best, and the Giro is a great way to do that.
”But after only two or three weeks’ preparation … I’ll go with high hopes, not high expectations.
”I will be taking it one step at a time – to first try and do a good Giro, do the best Giro I can. Anything that I do good in the Giro is only going to help me in the Tour. They are two hefty objectives, so you’re best to look at one at a time. Otherwise it can get overwhelming. I’m as curious as anyone to see how it pans out, how far I can go on hope.”
At least Evans knows what he is in for. He tackled the Giro-Tour double in 2010. While he failed to reap the success he hoped for due to illness and injury, he knows he can handle the load.
In the 2010 Giro, Evans placed fifth overall, won a stage and the points jersey after being struck by a fever. In the Tour de France that year, he took the yellow jersey on stage eight in the Alps despite a crash in which he fractured his elbow, only to drop off the pace on stage nine due to the pain of his injury.
Later that year, Evans also rode well in the world road championship in Geelong.
But Evans said of the toll such a schedule takes on a rider trying to win them all: ”It’s not easy to recover … and with the Tour a little earlier this year, it’s technically more difficult.”
There is also the issue of who Evans races against. In the Giro, it will include Briton Bradley Wiggins (Sky) who won last year’s Tour, Canadian Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp), the reigning Giro champion, and Italian Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) who won the recent Giro del Trentino.
Evans is unsure – or coy – about how he will race the Giro.
Will he be aggressive and seek early time gains as he did en route to winning the 2011 Tour? Will he pin his hopes on the 17.4-kilometre stage-two team time trial, and two individual time trials on stage eight (55.5 kilometres) and stage 18 (19.4 kilometres), the second being up a mountain? Will he risk all and attack in the Dolomites and Alps in week three, knowing win or lose it may sharpen him for the Tour?
”In any grand tour, where you can get time is [an opportunity] you need to use,” Evans says. ”It depends. Will the climbers be strong, or will they control everything in the mountains? The time trials aren’t exactly flat. Sky, you would expect to race how they won the  Tour, but Ryder brings more interest. Then the Italians … you can’t believe how excited they are to be there.”
Don’t ignore Evans’ Italian ties as motivation either. A former mountain biker, his road career began as an under-23 rider in Italy. He turned professional with the Italian Mapei team, and in his grand tour debut, the 2002 Giro, he placed 14th and wore the leader’s pink jersey for a day.
His wife Chiara Passerini is Italian, and her parents often head out to watch him race.
”My roots as a bike racer are quite Italian. Italian cycling has given me a lot,” Evans says.
”I certainly hope to be able to give something back to it.”
Hence, he has always wanted to race the Giro since his last start in 2010.
”I thought I would come back but a bit later [than now], and [thought] when I do, I want to do well in the race,” he says. ”That’s why my hopes are higher than my expectations.”
Watch every stage of the Giro d’Italia live on Eurosport, and selected stages on SBS One.
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