Cadel Evans appears near his Grand Tour best again after dealing with two tough years. The 2011 Tour de France winner sits second overall, best of the favourites, in the Giro d'Italia ahead of this weekend's mountain stages.
"It's a good start for me," team BMC's Aussie said, "but it's early days."
Evans sits 21 seconds behind leader Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge), who should lose the pink jersey tomorrow when the race finishes at 1,235 metres. Behind Evans, the closest overall contender is Rigoberto Urán (Omega Pharma) at 57 seconds.
"Even if we were on equal times, it'd be hard to beat Evans," Michele Scarponi said. "Now, it's going to be hard to even claw back part of that advantage."
The advantage came thanks to the team time trial in Belfast and two tricky days in Italy. In Viggiano on Thursday, Evans fought back, overtook Joaquím Rodríguez's red Katusha train and placed second. With it, he took six bonus seconds.
Yesterday, his team rode at the front and continued to do so when a crash occurred at the base of the finishing climb to Montecassino. Evans gained 49 seconds, plus four in bonus by placing third, on his nearest rivals.
Others like Scarponi, lost much more time due to the crash. Nicolas Roche (Tinkoff-Saxo) finished 15 minutes back.
With his ride in this Giro d'Italia and his win in the Giro del Trentino, he appears to be returning to his 2011 level. That year, he became the first Aussie to win the Tour de France.
"There's a couple of blots – in 2004, 2012 and 2013 – but over 18 years, it's not too bad of a career," Evans said.
"In 2012, a virus really knocked me out. I had to take such a break to recover from that. I was more than two months off the bike, and that ruined my 2013 season. That's why I had an extra Grand Tour last year to rebuild my base again, and now it's starting to come together finally."
Evans won two stages en route to the Tour overall. He also won the Tirreno-Adriatico and Tour of Romandy stage races in 2011. In 2012, he won the Critérium International stage race. At the Tour, however, he began to suffer.
"I was really going in 2011. I was trying to maintain that level or lift it, but that virus knocked me right back," Evans added.
"I didn't know why I was performing so badly, that was the frustrating thing. I was more than worried. There were a couple of times there I didn't know what was going on. There's always a reason, but when you don't know that reason, it's difficult to work things out. Now it seems to be coming together again."
The 37-year-old decided with BMC this winter that he would race the Giro d'Italia and leave Tejay van Garderen to the Tour de France. The early decision appears to have helped him in 2014.
He won a stage and placed second to Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) at the Tour Down Under, he placed seventh in the Tour of the Basque Country and ahead of the Giro, he won the Giro del Trentino.
"It's a good start, but we have three weeks to face in the Giro with top riders who built their season around this race," Evans said.
"It's important for me to grab seconds when I can, especially with the third week and the uphill time trial. It's the only stage race where it's better get the lead beforehand."
Aggressive performance on final climb during Wednesday's stage sees Cadel Evans rise to third overall
Thank you for reading 10 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
Join now for unlimited access
Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
Gregor Brown is an experienced cycling journalist, based in Florence, Italy. He has covered races all over the world for over a decade - following the Giro, Tour de France, and every major race since 2006. His love of cycling began with freestyle and BMX, before the 1998 Tour de France led him to a deep appreciation of the road racing season.
20 year-old sprints to clean sweep at British Track Champs
Emma Finucane wins two titles on the closing day of the championships
By Vern Pitt • Published
Marius Mayrhofer pulls off surprise win at Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race
DSM rider breaks down with emotion after he crosses the finish line
By Stephen Puddicombe • Published
The dog days aren't over at the Tour de France 2022: Canine chaos AND cuteness
‘Suddenly that beast crossed the street and I couldn’t go anywhere’ - stray dog causes Yves Lampaert to crash on stage 12
By Tom Thewlis • Published
Giro d’Italia 2021: Cadel Evans says Egan Bernal has the advantage on the gravel of stage 11
The retired Australian Grand Tour star won the last gravel stage in Montalcino 11 years ago
By Alex Ballinger • Published
Cadel Evans: 'Froome may not be as strong in Tour de France with double attempt'
The 2011 Tour winner says BMC and Richie Porte will try and take advantage if Froome shows weakness in the Tour after his Giro attempt
By Gregor Brown • Published
Vincenzo Nibali to join Cadel Evans for gruelling 105km, 3,275-metre hill climb in Taiwan
With the hill climb season just around the corner, Vincenzo Nibali is set to finish his year with one last uphill test at the Taiwan KOM Challenge.
By Henry Robertshaw • Published
Cadel Evans: Froome can win back-to-back Tours de France
The 2011 Tour de France champion Cadel Evans believes British rider Chris Froome can successfully defend his title
By Jack Elton-Walters • Published
Cycling Australia to announce Tour de France 'Team of the Century'
Cycling Australia will announce the honorary Tour de France team later this month to mark 100 years since the first Australian Tour riders.
By Michael Seymour • Published
Tejay van Garderen and Cadel Evans at crossroads with BMC
By Sophie Smith • Published
Cadel Evans fights to stay in Giro d'Italia top 10
Distanced during Thursday's key mountain stage, Cadel Evans dropped out of the Giro's podium positions
By Gregor Brown • Published