Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) celebrated his birthday today riding in the Tour of Oman up Green Mountain.
"Wiser with in my years? You'd certainly hope so!" Evans told Cycling Weekly with a laugh.
"Messages came in from the world of Twitter this morning. For [wife] Chiara, I bought flowers before I left to Oman. It's my birthday, but I always have to send flowers!"
Almost six months have passed since Evans, 36, last raced. He passed the time with Chiara and new son Robel, including taking a trip home to Australia for a few weeks.
It was time to reflect. After winning the Tour de France in 2011, the first Aussie to do so, 2012 was a disaster. A virus ruined his season. Always a fighter, Evans tried to take on Sky in the Tour, but could only manage seventh place.
Younger team-mate Tejay Van Garderen was relieved of his support duties, was able to place fifth and secure the young riders' white jersey.
Since pulling out of the Tour of Colorado on August 25, Evans has reflected.
"When you're out for illness or injury or something, you're sitting at home with all this motivation that you normally use for training or racing, and you can't use it," Evans explained.
Nearby, World Champion Philippe Gilbert gave a TV interview and rising star Taylor Phinney searched for privacy to change clothes. They could learn a lot from Evans, and they probably are, because just like the Tour, he refuses to lay down his sword.
"You see a lot of riders in their career, when they're out for some reason or another, they return better riders," Evans continued. "This is a big part of it. You have a chance to sit back, relax and reflect, to look at things and to re-access how you go about things. All that time you're out, your motivation is being fuelled and when you come back your work ethic, your discipline and so on, can often be higher."
Evans will aim at the Tour again this season. Van Garderen, 24 years old, has space too. BMC Racing will field them as co-captains. Many fans put their money on Van Garderen to lead the team to Paris in the race's 100th edition, but Evans would remind them to re-consider.
The race starts in the Tour of Oman, six days in the Middle East and a chance for Evans to go shoulder to shoulder with Chris Froome (Sky), Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana).
Evans placed third today when the climbed 5.7 kilometres to finish on Green Mountain. After four days of racing, the off-season rest appears to have done him well.
"I don't know if I'd say I'm going really well, there are a couple of guys going better than me and most of them already have racing in their legs at the start of the year. There are guys here with a stage race already in their legs. [Contador, Nibali and Peter Sagan] are going to be a step ahead just due to their adaptation to racing."
Evans travels home to Stabio in Switzerland after Oman. Next, he races the GP Lugano, Tirreno-Adriatico, the Critérium International, Romandy and the Critérium du Dauphiné.
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