SAVONA, Italy (VN) — In a Giro d’Italia marked by fearsome climbs and snowy summits, Thursday’s rolling 41.9km individual time trial across the Barolo wine country could prove decisive.
With Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) nursing a promising lead on a herd of spindly climbers, the veteran Australia could take some important gains to further solidify his credentials as overall victor.
Evans is certainly hoping so.
“The time trial is always the race of truth. We’ve had a difficult first week. I think it will have an affect on everyone,” Evans said Wednesday. “For me, it’s one of the key stages. I go into it feeling pretty well. On paper, it suits me. It’s more a rouleur course, so it’s slightly more adapted to me. I think at this point of the race, recovery also counts for a lot.”
Now or never for Evans
The stakes couldn’t be higher for Evans, who’s escaped a crash-filled first week relatively unscathed. Back in the pink jersey, Evans’ revival will be under the microscope Thursday.
The stage 12 time trial will provide the best opportunity for the 2011 Tour de France winner to expand his 57-second lead to Rigoberto Urán (Omega Pharma-Quick Step). Another eight riders are knotted up within 2:01 to Evans — Diego Ulissi (Lampre-Merida) dropped from seventh to 21st due to knee pain — but the GC picture will surely be altered by day’s end Thursday.
The course starts in Barbaresco, and opens with a gradual, steady climb that steps up 378m, followed by a fairly technical descent on smooth roads ahead of about 15km of flatter, rolling roads through spectacular wine country. At 34km, the course loops up a second, steeper 3km climb. A twisting, technical descent leads to a slightly uphill run to the finish line in Barolo.
At nearly 42km, it’s a relatively long time trial, with a mix of climbing and flats, giving Evans a huge opportunity to improve his already favorable situation.
Thursday’s course profile favors Evans, especially compared to the climbing time trial looming in the final week on a steep, 28.6km assault of Crespano del Grappa that will tilt in favor back to the likes of Urán and Quintana.
Evans will have the pressure to deliver a big ride.
“It’s a good course for Cadel. It’s rolling, and it’s good for powerful guys,” said BMC sport director Valerio Piva. “Cadel is the best on paper. The others will try to defend their position. It’s an important stage.”
It can be misleading to compare past time trial results, but a few things stand out. By far, Evans is the most consistent and experienced against the clock among the Giro favorites. He’s won two time trials in his career — at Critérium International in 2011 and in the 2007 Tour — but boasts dozens of top-3s on his palmares against the clock.
Based on recent results, however, Evans isn’t the force he once was. In last year’s Giro and Tour, respectively, he only mustered one top-10, with seventh in the first TT in the 2013 Giro, where he ended up third overall.
Limiting the losses
For Evans, it’s a day to take time. For just about everyone, it will be a day to defend.
Behind Evans, a pack of climbers will be looking to survive Thursday’s TT test with their GC options intact going into a trio of climbing stages looming in the Alps this weekend.
For someone considered a climber, Nairo Quintana (Movistar) defends himself very well in time trials. Last year, his second-place to Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) in the closing-day time trial helped him seal overall victory in the 2013 Vuelta al País Vasco.
On the climb-heavy course to Chorges in stage 17 in last year’s Tour, Quintana was an impressive sixth at 1:11 behind Chris Froome (Sky), a performance that helped him secure the final podium.
Movistar will be hoping Quintana — now eighth at 1:45 — has fully recovered from a hard crash in stage 6, and that he will not cede much time to his direct rivals.
Movistar teammate Adriano Malori, who won shorter time trials this season at Tirreno-Adriatico and Tour de San Luís, said he didn’t expect Quintana to give up too much time to Evans.
“It’s a hard time trial, too hard for me. I think Evans or Urán can win. I don’t see Nairo losing too much time on the course,” Malori said. “It’s not flat. There are two climbs, so Nairo should do better than some people expect.”
Urán will also be looking to defend his position against Evans and perhaps take time on a few direct rivals. Urán has improved against the clock since moving to Omega Pharma-Quick Step, where he rode to an encouraging fourth against Froome in the final-day time trial at Tour de Romandie in Switzerland.
Omega Pharma-Quick Step sport director Tom Steels echoed the sentiment that winning differences are made in time trials, not in the mountains.
“I think the time trial will be very decisive,” Steels said on the team’s website. “You see in the mountains, if no GC guy really goes into crisis, the gaps are not that big. They can all stick together. … I think the time trial will really be where the GC plays out because, if you are 40 seconds in the lead, you can still lose 30 seconds on the climb of the parcours.”
Evans and Urán both previewed the course before Tirreno-Adriatico this spring, but other teams, such as Tinkoff-Saxo, will inspect the course Thursday morning.
Michael Rogers, winner of Wednesday’s stage, revealed he could be a favorite for the stage victory, while Rafal Majka, third at 1:10, will be looking to confirm his position.
“It will be for a rider who has the legs, who has the force. It’s been a hard Giro so far. We haven’t had many hard mountains yet, but it’s been cold, long stages, a nervous bunch. Everyone is already tired,” Rogers said. “I see Evans as the favorite for his experience. We will see what happens in the final week. With these hard climbs, someone can lose minutes if they have a crisis.”
Another rider to watch will be Wilco Kelderman (Belkin), who’s posted five top-5s through 10 road stages. The 23-year-old, who won a short time trial last year to secure the overall at the Tour of Denmark, is already within reach of his pre-Giro goal of a top-10.
If Evans can take minutes, the Giro could turn into a fight for the podium. If the climbers stay within striking range, the race should be a wild firefight all the way to Trieste.