MACERATA, Italy (VN) – Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) is taking a good look at three of his top Tour de France rivals this week in Italy. The overall leader at Tirreno-Adriatico said Sunday, however, that his focus was squarely on winning the final GC in his first stage race of the year.
Evans assumed a narrow lead Sunday in Castelraimondo, finishing near the tail of a seven-rider group crossing the line two seconds behind Omega Pharma-Lotto’s Philippe Gilbert. With previous leader Robert Gesink (Rabobank) a further 15 seconds back, Evans pulled on the maglia azzura after only his seventh race day of 2011.
When asked after the finish what his results this week mean for his longer range plans for the Tour de France, Evans maintained that these are “still the early days yet.”
Evans delayed his start to the season by a month this year in order to arrive at the Tour de France fresher than in 2010, when he earned the maillot jaune, but lost it in the next stage. He later revealed a fracture in his arm suffered early in his yellow jersey-earning ride.
“(Saturday) was the first test for me to see what level I was at,” said Evans. “I knew I was at a good level, but I didn’t know where everyone else was.”
The Aussie admitted that he was surprised to be in the top GC position so early in his season. He said he came into the 244km stage that included the 14km ascent of the Sasso Tetto with “vague hopes” to take control in the overall standings.
“Of course, I’m a GC rider. My whole hard drive is built on that and that’s the way I race, apart from the one-day races,” said Evans. “I came here to see how I went and maybe that was going to be good enough for GC. I came in with that sort of expectations for myself and taking the lead with two days to go is a great position to be in.”
If Evans can hold his overall lead in today’s stage in Macerata, with its 2.5 difficult finishing circuits, he’ll enter the final-stage time trial in the driver’s seat. The prologue-style TT is just 9.4km and nearly perfectly flat.
“It’s short, it’s flat and it’s strange,” said Evans. “We will have had five days racing, three of them really hard, and to do a short time trial is actually quite difficult to manage. In a short TT, if you have something wrong you don’t have time to come good and make it up in the end.”
Evans is arguably the best prologue rider within 10 seconds of the jersey. His closest rival is Gesink, who trailed by five seconds on Monday morning. Tuesday’s time trial in San Benedetto del Tronto will close the first showdown between Evans and three of his top rivals for the Tour in July.
When pressed, Evans said that he was eying the other Tour favorites in Italy – Andy Schleck (Leopard-Trek), Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Robert Gesink (Rabobank) – but that his focus was on first winning the overall at the seven-day race. “Of course, I’m looking at my Tour rivals, but I’m paying more attention to my rivals at Tirreno-Adriatico now,” he said. “It’s good training here and I prefer to follow my own lines and what preparation suits me.
“I’ll try and get through (Monday) first.”