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Evans proves to be in hunt for Giro win after Montasio

ALTOPIANO DEL MONTASIO, Italy (VN) — Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) proved on Tuesday, on the Giro d’Italia’s first summit finish, that he is truly in the hunt for a second grand tour victory to follow his 2011 Tour de France triumph.

“I have done a lot of work on my climbing,” Evans said, “but this was always going to be the first big test for me to see where I am placed with my climbing.”

Evans rode away into the crisp mountain air with race leader Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) today. At the relatively new ski resort sitting in Italy’s northeast Friuli region, he got a good view of the overall classification.

Bradley Wiggins’ Sky teammate, Rigoberto Urán, rode clear for the stage win in the race’s first true mountain test. Carlos Betancur (Ag2r La Mondiale) was second, and Nibali and Evans were the top GC favorites, finishing third and five, respectively.

Nibali snapped up bonus seconds at a late sprint partway up the finish climb and by placing third on the stage. Those 12 seconds added to the 37-second gain Nibali, Evans, Mauro Santambrogio (Vini Fantini-Selle Italia), Rafal Majka (Saxo-Tinkoff), and Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r La Mondiale) put into Wiggins.

The 2012 Tour de France champion lost ground on the newly introduced climb’s 20-percent pitches four kilometers from the finish. He kept his head, but conceded time to the five-man group of rivals.

The net result has Nibali and Evans in pole position for the Giro title. Nibali leads by 41 seconds over Evans, who is second overall. The rest are at more than two minutes.

“This was the first stage that would also show where everyone is placed, and some riders lost time,” Evans said.

Evans shows his experienced eye

Evans lost the Tour de France more times than he cares to remember. He also became the race’s first Australian winner in 2011. In the Giro, he has placed fifth and wore the maglia rosa in his grand tour debut in 2002. In short, Evans has an experienced eye.

“It was not ideal to lose some seconds to Nibali, but then it was good to still hold my place,” he said. “To lose some seconds wasn’t too bad. I tried to go for those [bonus] seconds at the end.”

After nixing the bonus seconds on the key mountain stages in 2012, race organizer RCS Sport brought them back for every stage other than the time trials, awarding 20, 12, and eight seconds for the top three finishers, respectively.

The race heads upwards again tomorrow to Vajont, where 50 years ago nearly 2000 died in a dam tragedy. The climb rises to just 809 meters and drops off in the final 250 meters. As a faster finisher, Evans is better suited to take bonus seconds there.

The race then heads west via stages designed more for the sprinters and breakaway riders, culminating on the weekend with a run-up the Col du Galibier’s northern slope. Evans defended himself on that pass and the following day up Alpe d’Huez before stomping the time trial and taking yellow in the 2011 Tour. It could be a good omen for the Aussie. The Giro wraps on May 26 in Breschia.

“It’s still too early to say how things will happen,” Evans said. “It’s still a long way until we get to Brescia.”