BUSSETO, Italy (VN) — Every day that Cadel Evans pushes closer to a Giro d’Italia showdown in the final week, BMC Racing dares to start believing.
The team is not only believing in Evans’ chances to win the pink jersey, but also in its own abilities to stand up to the job.
The American squad has its A-team in California, where Tejay van Garderen is leading the overall at the Amgen Tour. Evans was a late addition to the team’s otherwise hodge-podge Giro roster that didn’t include a clear leader or a purpose larger than spicing up the racing.
We are now nearly two weeks deep into the Giro and Evans is presenting a firm challenge to pink jersey Vincenzo Nibali (Astana).
“I think Cadel is building through this whole Giro. He keeps delivering every single day,” Evans’ teammate Taylor Phinney told VeloNews. “We’re like the ‘little team that could.’ I am not Marcus Burghardt; Steve Cummings isn’t Manuel Quinziato. We’re having to slip into that role. We’ve all been sick, really struggling this first week; now we’re getting into the real race. We’re here for him, and we believe in his mission.”
Evans has surpassed expectations through the first 12 days of the Giro. When the race started in Naples on May 4, few counted on Evans as a true contender for the pink jersey. He even downplayed his own chances during a pre-race press conference.
As other pre-race favorites such as Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) and Bradley Wiggins (Sky) have faded out of contention and even left the race, Evans has consistently stepped up in every key stage.
Going into this weekend’s pair of decisive climbing stages, Evans is poised in second place, just 41 seconds behind Nibali.
“Cadel is good. He’s doing a great job managing his race so far,” sport director Max Sciandri told VeloNews. “His mood is good. His confidence is very different than last year. He had some tough moments, but you can see the old Cadel is back.”
Evans has proven reliably consistent across the race, never losing ground and holding his position during a string of technical transition stages battered by foul weather in the first week. He was rock solid in the lumpy time trial in stage 8 and has proven hard to shake in the mountains.
In short, the Evans of 2011, when he became the first Australian to win the Tour, seems to be back.
“He’s getting stronger as the race comes along,” Sciandri said. “We came here relatively late with Cadel, but he’s got the big engine, the experience. It was a late decision, but we can see he’s racing to win.”
That steady riding has inspired his BMC Racing teammates in Italy to up their game.
Several riders have been suffering with colds and allergy problems that have ravaged the Giro peloton, among them Phinney, who said he came down with a fever in stage 5 and nearly packed it home. But Phinney is on the mend, and was taking big turns at the front Thursday to keep Evans well protected against rain, wind, and crashes.
Phinney, racing his third grand tour, said Evans is quietly lifting the spirits of everyone on the team.
“The biggest goal now is to help Cadel. He’s showing himself to be one of the top two favorites to win here, so we’re all uniting around him to try to achieve that goal,” Phinney said. “The thing we’re trying to work on most, this team was put together as a team of wildcards just to race the Giro. … Now, with the late addition of Cadel, we’ve had to turn ourselves into the support team that he needs. That’s been difficult for us, and for me, it’s a role that I am slipping into.”
Evans is no stranger to the Giro, and that experience is helping the entire team. He’s come a long way since he nabbed the pink jersey back in 2002 as a fresh-faced road rookie after leaving behind mountain biking for good.
Evans won the 2011 Tour thanks to his ever-steady diesel engine and improved tactical sense, but fell short in a frustrating, illness-plagued 2012 season when he finished a disappointing seventh in his Tour defense.
Evans’ race-day struggles continued into 2013. After finishing third overall at the Tour of Oman, he was 22nd at Tirreno-Adriatico, a race he won in 2011, and 51st at Critérium International. He skipped out of the Ardennes classics and made the surprise decision to race the Giro.
Initially, the move was seen as effort to catch up on his form for July’s Tour. Yet as Evans continues to surprise everyone, he’s suddenly in with a chance for the podium, and perhaps even more. Starting Friday’s stage in second, he is the only rider making Nibali nervous.
If Evans can make it through two tough stages in the Alps this weekend, he could be ideally positioned to take on Nibali in the final week across northern Italy.
“We’ve come this far with our options still full,” Sciandri said. “There is still a lot of Giro. He needs to stay calm. That’s what I am telling him. Keep it safe, keep it calm.”
That’s the formula that worked during the 2011 Tour. If Evans is indeed back, he could very well parlay that calm into the surprise story of this Giro.