2. Evans still fit to lead?
Like Sky, BMC Racing will be facing potentially difficult leadership decisions going into July. And like Sky, it has its former Tour winner racing in the Giro, hoping to show the form needed to head off a challenge for Tour leadership from a rising young star.
As defending champion at the Tour last year, Cadel Evans struggled, finishing seventh, 15:49 behind Wiggins. His right hand man, Tejay van Garderen, soared. The American won the white jersey of the best young rider and finishing an impressive fifth overall despite remaining steadfast in his service to Evans.
This season, van Garderen has laid down a solid foundation, finishing second at the season opening Tour de San Luis in Argentina, fourth at Paris-Nice, and third at the Critérium International behind Sky’s Froome and Richie Porte. Evans’ best results prior to the Giro were a third place at the Tour of Oman and a low-key eighth place at Trentino.
If there is any Sky-like division within BMC Racing, van Garderen, Evans, and the team aren’t letting on. The team has maintained that it remains behind Evans for the Tour, with van Garderen a strong backup plan should Evans stumble. It is not an unreasonable position: Evans was a Tour winner just two years ago, and struggled with illness during last year’s race. He’s also finished second on two occasions, and borne the weight of team leadership for years. Still, the emergence of van Garderen as a viable GC contender at BMC puts more pressure on Evans to justify his position at the top of the team’s pecking order.
To do so, he’ll need to show a spark in Italy that’s been lacking since he stood atop the podium on the Champs Elysées in 2011. While he hasn’t backed himself into a corner by saying he’ll ride for victory like Wiggins, if Evans is outside the top 10 come Brescia, barring illness or injury his claim to Tour leadership will come under serious scrutiny. But even if he has a bad day that knocks him down the classification, he could still quiet critics by delivering standout performances at key showdowns between the contenders, whether in the hills or the time trials.
Those key moments have yet to arrive, but just four days into the Giro, Evans has shown he may be capable of delivering the performance he needs. In Monday’s unexpectedly aggressive finale into Marina di Ascea, Evans stayed comfortably with the other contenders and sprinted to a second-place finish behind breakaway winner Luca Paolini (Katusha), netting 12 bonus seconds to reclaim some of the time he lost in Sunday’s team time trial. It was a cagey ride that showed a bit of the 2011 Evans — a smart rider, a strong finisher, and a man seemingly more comfortable as an underdog than a favorite.