Cadel Evans has emerged as a genuine maglia rosa contender at the Giro d’Italia with younger teammates in Taylor Phinney and Britain’s Adam Blythe learning quickly how to support the Australian and his grand ambitions.
Evans and current pink jersey Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) have emerged as the two men to beat after the first summit finish yesterday that Rigoberto Uran won giving Sky an alternative leadership option outside of Bradley Wiggins.
“The team is gelling a bit better in terms of taking care of Cadel when he needs to be taken care of – on the flats at least, when I can help him,” Phinney told Cycling Weekly yesterday.
“He came into this Giro pretty late, he decided to do it pretty late, and the team was already set so we’ve had a lot to learn over the past nine days to try to figure out how to be a team that’s going to try and win a Grand Tour.”
Evans announced in March that he would compete in Italy but maintained the Tour was his major objective for the season.
Ten stages in and the 36-year-old trails Nibali by just 41 seconds and currently holds the points jersey that Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) is gunning for with four flat stages remaining including tomorrow’s 134km run to Treviso.
“The team we had coming here is not the Tour de France team so we’ve all kind of had to step our level up a bit,” Phinney said.
Phinney himself celebrated a stint in the maglia rosa at the Giro last year having won the opening prologue. But his second career appearance is proving to be an entirely different experience.
“Last year we had different objectives,” he said. “We were all kind of doing whatever, we didn’t have somebody who could win the race so it’s a different atmosphere than last year. But it’s an atmosphere that I need to get used to and step up to.
“If everything goes well at the end it will be celebratory,” he continued. “But it’s more tension, more pressure and justly so because it’s a big event and it’s never easy to win ones of these.
“Most of us are still here, we lost Klaas Lodewyck early to sickness but we’re all still surviving and doing everything we can to help Cadel and try to be the support riders that he needs us to be.”
Both Phinney and Blythe have been managing flu symptoms and a fever with several members of the peloton, including Wiggins, affected by the inclement weather that animated the first week of racing.
“It’s not been good,” Blythe said.
“It started alright but then someone came to the team with a bit of a chest infection I think and it’s slowly spread around, so for the past five days I’ve been on antibiotics and had a fever. But it could be worse. I’m still hanging in there.”
Blythe typically would try to contest flat sprint stages in a race but in Italy is using them as an opportunity to recover with Evans the priority of the team.
“You can learn a lot from him you just need to understand him and you need to get him to speak up a little bit,” the sprinter said of working with BMC’s leader.
“But once you get talking to him he’s a good guy, you just need to double check things with him.”
Blythe entered the Giro on the back of a mixed early season and Classics campaign.
“I started in Qatar and then was in and out as a reserve all the time. I never got a clear program from the team so that was a bit shit because I never knew what I was going for,” he revealed.
“It was a little bit unusual but I think it was guys getting sick like Taylor, [Philippe] Gilbert not doing Flanders, so it was a long time away from home for a couple of days racing basically.”
Blythe, despite his health, is still hopeful he can make it through to Brescia where the team might just celebrate a huge win.
Giro d’Italia 2013: Previews and race info
Giro d’Italia 2013: Stage reports
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Photos by Graham Watson