Cadel Evans fought rain, winds and 10°C temperatures and nearly won a stage early into the three-week Giro d'Italia. The 2011 Tour de France champion saw only Diego Ulissi pass him in stage five to Viggiano but took six bonus seconds and showed he is ready to win the race overall.
"I'm certainly prepared for this Giro," Evans said. "Whether that will be good enough, we'll see in this week's racing."
The Australian dressed in more red and black BMC jackets to keep warm metres after the finish line. He placed second at one second behind Ulissi, but delivered an early blow to his potential overall rivals Nairo Quintana and Joaquím Rodríguez.
Rodríguez's Katusha team powered to the hillside town, but 37-year-old Evans benefited. Spain's Rodriguez finished seventh and Colombian Quintana place 10th, both at one second back. With his move, however, the 'never-say-die' Evans took an important time bonus.
"We had everything today: rain and water, cold, low visibility, it was slippery... It was a finish where few riders were going to arrive at the front even without the teams trying to make the difference," Evans said.
"Katusha tried with a good lead-out, but I was able to recover, even if it wasn't enough to win."
Evans, after finishing second twice, won the 2011 Tour de France. The last couple of years, he dealt with a virus and suffered to return to the top.
Last year, he decided to race the Giro d'Italia at the last minute, held on to second place but slipped to third on the penultimate day to Tre Cime di Lavaredo. This year, he aimed specifically at the Giro with team-mate Tejay van Garderen going to the Tour de France. Showing he's ready, he won the Giro del Trentino overall beforehand.
"He aimed for the Giro this time around," sports director, Valerio Piva told Cycling Weekly. "Last year, he started without preparation and a team. This year, he has a good strong team. He's focused and he arrived in shape. That was important."
Piva said that Evans hopes to take as much time as possible before the high-mountain stages in the last week. In particular, Quintana, who placed second behind Chris Froome at the Tour last year, worries BMC.
"It's clear that Cadel is going to take an advantage if a chance arises because the climbers are favoured in the last week. He can also try in the first time trial to Barolo," said Piva.
"He needs more time on his rivals. Yes, he has a good advantage on Rodríguez, but even if he has one or two minutes on Quintana, that isn't that much."
The rain passed and the sun poked through the clouds. Another Australian, Mike Matthews continues to wear the pink overall race leader's jersey. Evans sits third at 15 seconds. Rigoberto Urán, second overall last year, sits fourth at 19 seconds, Quintana at 1-09 minutes and Rodríguez 1-47.
Tomorrow's stage to Montecassino ends with a 8.65-kilometre climb to 484 metres. "It's going to be a little more of a repeat of today." And Evans added, "I like the position I'm in."
Ulissi gets the better of Rodriguez, Evans and Boasson Hagen in an uphill sprint in Viggiano
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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.
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