AGLIE, Italy (VN) — Ask the top riders at the Giro d’Italia who they think will win the pink jersey, and almost no one mentions Cadel Evans (BMC Racing).
It appears the Giro peloton has a blind spot to Evans, the only rider in the field who has won the Tour de France.
Many seem to think that the 37-year-old will not be a major factor in the final grueling week of the Giro.
Are the younger riders in the peloton making a mistake in overlooking the ever-steady Evans? BMC teammate Manuel Quinziato thinks so.
“Cadel is always there. It’s a mistake if people are forgetting about him,” Quinziato told VeloNews. “Cadel is in very good shape. The team is supporting him. I believe we will see a good Cadel in the final week.”
When asked who he thought were his most dangerous rivals, race leader Rigoberto Urán (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) rattled off Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo), and Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r-La Mondiale).
Was it just an innocent oversight, or is the peloton not considering Evans a legitimate threat?
That sentiment echoes across the peloton as rider after rider mentions nearly everyone except Evans.
The explosive, race-changing attacks are expected to come from climbers Quintana and Pozzovivo, not the Aussie.
As one sport director privately said, “We’ve seen Evans getting dropped at the past two Tours, I don’t think he will be able to follow.”
Despite ceding time to Urán in Thursday’s time trial, Evans remains ahead of all the major rivals save Urán.
Urán now carries the responsibility that comes with the pink jersey, but if someone wants to win the Giro, they have to get rid of Urán and Evans.
“It’s better for us now that Omega has the jersey,” Quinziato said. “Urán has never had a jersey before in a big tour, and Evans is very experienced.”
In Saturday’s opening salvo in the Giro’s first major climbs, Evans played a patient hand, safely negotiating the stage, but couldn’t counter when Urán was under pressure.
When Pozzovivo and Quintana attacked, Urán couldn’t follow, or at least decided not to. Evans squirted ahead in the closing meters, narrowing Urán’s lead to just 32 seconds.
“I wanted to see how the team was, and how everything went,” Evans told reporters at the line Saturday. “It’s nice to put the responsibility of the race lead on another team in these finishes.”
All top six GC rivals to Urán took time on him in Saturday’s first real test in the mountains. But there were no major shakeups in the GC, and Urán shrugged off the losses.
Indeed, Urán was smiling when he donned the pink jersey, realizing he can use his gap to ride defensively through the weekend.
“It was a hard stage, but the team supported me well,” Urán said. “Everyone knew there would be attacks, because they must attack, but my team protected me. I had no problems. I am still in pink.”
Sunday’s 225km stage is even potentially more explosive. After five hours of flats, the course spikes upward in the final 19.35km summit at Montecampione.
It’s just the kind of climb that everyone expects Evans to struggle with.
“We have to see how Evans can react to the big accelerations,” said Movistar sport director José Luis Arrieta. “He has more experience than anyone, and he is ahead of most of the pack. We hope that Nairo is improving.”
Quintana suffered through the first half of the Giro, crashing in stage six, and then coming down with a chest infection. After taking antibiotics, he was able to attack with Pozzovivo on Saturday.
Because the final week of the Giro is so hard, the peloton will eventually start running out of gas. Riders will not only start to tire, they will also be riding to defend their positions. Majka, now third, will be riding to hold a podium spot, while others will attack each other, dynamics that will play in Evans’ favor.
“We haven’t seen [Urán] on his limit in the third week,” Evans said. “Today wasn’t my best day, but it wasn’t my worst day, either.”
What’s certain is that the Giro remains wide open. Urán revealed some chinks in his armor, something that will only motivate the likes of Quintana, still more than three minutes back, to attack Sunday.
If Evans has the legs, and the smarts, he can exploit that to his benefit.
“Cadel is very good in these long, hard climbs,” Quinziato said. “Of course, we believe Cadel can win the Giro.”
No one seems to be counting on Evans, except his teammates.