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VALLOIRE, Italy (VN) — Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) promised on Monday’s rest day to come out swinging in the final stages of the 2013 Giro d’Italia, and still holds out hope of winning the maglia rosa.
Race leader Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) looks rock solid, but he pointed to Evans, lurking at 1:26 back, as the lone rider who makes him uncomfortable with six days of racing left.
Meeting with the press, Evans insisted everything was still possible.
“It’s still not impossible to win,” Evans said. “I see a good Nibali. He’s been able to cover everything we’ve thrown at him so far. The final week will decide everything.”
Evans has been one of the top surprises of this Giro. Under advice from team manager Jim Ochowicz, the 2011 Tour de France champion decided to race the Giro only five weeks before it started, in large part to get more racing miles into his legs before returning to the Tour.
After falling flat in his Tour defense last year, Evans did not want to arrive to Corsica for the race’s Grand Depart under-trained. So the team took on the heavy load of racing the Giro, but with very modest expectations.
“The reason for starting the Giro was to get a big block of racing before the Tour, and that’s what I needed,” he said. “Is it too much? I would rather have too much than too little. To go back to the Tour like last year doesn’t give me any satisfaction.”
Now with only six stages left in the 96th Giro, Evans is still within striking distance.
“After two hard weeks of racing, the third week is always another dimension, both physically and the fatigue,” Evans said. “Maybe Nibali is going to remain untouchable and I may have to settle for something less than the first position — c’est la vie.”
Despite adding the Giro to his calendar late in the spring, Evans said he’s taken the race very seriously. After studying the route, he previewed some of the key stages, and held a Giro-focused training camp.
Evans said the first two weeks of all-out, weather-battered racing have been some of the most challenging of his long career. The peloton has had to deal with everything, including rain and snow, heat and wind, a challenging route, and allergies.
Evans and Nibali have largely been even throughout this Giro. The Italian took 23 seconds in the team time trial and 18 seconds in the individual time trial. Add some time bonuses, and what Evans called a “bad day” at Bardonecchia on Saturday, when he forfeited 33 seconds Nibali, and the differences made in this Giro have been minimal.
BMC Racing is counting on having Evans back at his best for the final week, and is hoping that Nibali cracks.
“Nibali looks very strong, but we will see what happens in the final week. There are still three very hard stages to come,” said BMC Racing director Fabio Baldato. “Evans is always strong in the final week of a grand tour. That is on our side. I know since the beginning of this Giro Cadel has said, ‘let’s make the best of it.’ He is racing to win.”
Evans is also hopeful that Bardonecchia was merely a hiccup and he will be able to attack in the coming stages.
Thursday’s 20.6-kilometer climbing time trial from Mori to Polsa will be critical. If Nibali can take even more time on Evans, then the differences will likely be too large to overcome. If Evans is able to take some time back on Nibali with a great ride, it will make things very interesting for Friday’s and Saturday’s epic climbing stages.
“It’s not just waiting to see if Nibali has a bad day, maybe Cadel can have a great day,” Baldato said. “Cadel is very motivated and we can see that he is excited about being at the Giro.”
Nibali has the advantage of having a stronger squad backed by riders who have dedicated their season to preparing for a run at the pink jersey at the Giro. BMC Racing, meanwhile, brought a team of younger riders who were looking to jump into breakaways and hunt for stages — at least, that was, until Evans decided to race the Giro.
So far, Evans has been able to fend for himself in the deep mountains. Steve Cummings, the best climber in BMC Racing’s supporting cast, is starting to feel better after suffering through the first part of the Giro with a cold. He will be key to Evans’ assault on Nibali and the Dolomites this week.
Evans won’t speculate on Tour leadership
Also on Monday, Evans congratulated his BMC Racing teammate Tejay van Garderen for winning the Amgen Tour of California, but admitted that he hasn’t been paying too much attention to the race.
“I’ve missed it. I have been sleeping by the time the California stages came on,” Evans said. “I am guessing it’s big news for him. Being an American, I am sure they are happy. Racing here at the Giro, I’ve been in a bit of a bubble.”
Evans wouldn’t speculate on how van Garderen’s victory might play out when it comes time for the team to consider leadership for the Tour.
“I am not even thinking about that at this stage,” he said. “Get the Giro done first.”
Last year, van Garderen rode to fifth and the best young rider’s jersey at the Tour, while Evans struggled to seventh. So far, the team has been insisting that Evans remains the outright leader, with van Garderen starting as a clear second option.
In earlier comments, Evans has suggested he would ride to help van Garderen if he struggled like he did last year. But it’s obvious Evans is riding to be ready for the Tour. Despite having a chance to win the pink jersey, the Giro remains as it was designed for Evans: an opportunity to get more racing in his legs for the Tour. Now six days from Breschia, that racing could deliver the Aussie his second grand tour title.