By Gregor Brown
Cadel Evans is turning his attention to what experts describe as the most technical and demanding Grand Tour. He embraced the team's idea of focusing solely on the Giro d'Italia in 2014 with a specific schedule.
Last week, after a team BMC Racing meeting in Switzerland, Evans announced he would start his 2014 season at home with the Tour Down Under in Australia in a bid to be ready for the Giro.
"I had a call from [General Manager] Jim Ochowicz in August after we had time to digest the Tour de France. He said that he and the team would like me to concentrate on the Giro next year," Evans told Cycling Weekly last month. "For me, it sits well. The Giro is always a race I want to return to after dedicating my last 10 years to the Tour."
Evans won the 2011 Tour de France but suffered in the last two editions. A virus wiped out his 2012 season and this year he was constantly chasing form.
The Giro gamble might pay off. The 36-year-old Aussie proved competitive in all three editions that he raced so far, wearing the pink jersey in 2002 and 2010 and placing third this year behind Vincenzo Nibali (Astana). But it is more the technical difficulties, which the Tour usually does not encounter, which swing in Evans' favour. Because the caravan is smaller, the organiser is able to steer the Giro up remote climbs or through tight town squares. And because it is in May, two months earlier, bad weather tends to strike.
Race technical director, Mauro Vegni told Cycling Weekly, "In the Giro, ignoring the Tour's first week, the attention and tension is higher."
Bradley Wiggins can attest to the Giro's difficulties. He led Sky's charge in the 2013 race and helped it win the time trial on Ischia, the island off of Naples' coast. Those were the early days when the race enjoyed warm and sunny days. Nasty weather moved in. When it mixed with poor road conditions near Pescara, Wiggins lost control and crashed.
The gritty Aussie, chasing form for the Tour, continued through rain and snow. Only in the last day, in blizzard-like conditions on Tre Cime di Lavaredo, did he fall behind. He lost time to Rigoberto Urán (Sky) and slipped from second to third overall.
"In terms of the route itself, on paper the Tour easier but of course, the level is very high so it's a different style of racing," Evans continued. "The Giro requires that you are good not only on long climbs, but on very steep climbs, being good at positioning on more technical and smaller roads, whether that's the strade bianche [white gravel roads] or smaller roads, or in adverse climatic conditions."
Evans, unlike Wiggins who claimed gold medals in smooth velodromes, raced over rocks and dirt trails as a world-class mountain biker before switching to the road full time.
"You always have to stay alert, there's never an easy stage in the Giro. Cadel knows this," Vegni added. "He knows that it is not just the big climbs but those small climbs that can cause you harm."
His sole Giro stage win in 2010 underscored his abilities. Evans excelled when rain drenched the white gravel roads in Tuscany. His rivals slipped away before Montalcino, where Evans celebrated in a mud-stained rainbow jersey.
The 2014 route does not feature those gravel roads again but offers plenty of potential traps. Evans, for the first time completely dedicated to the Italian Grand Tour, will be able to exploit his abilities to the fullest.
A 'more humane' Giro d'Italia for 2014
Cadel Evans: Rider profile
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