Cadel Evans notches a win in midst of rebuilding form

Winning from a break — even getting into one — is a rare experience for the 2011 Tour champ, who as a GC man is usually on a short leash

BLACK DIAMOND, Alberta (VN) — Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) was almost sheepishly apologetic before the start of the Tour of Alberta, knowing he was on hand to lend his fame, and not his form, to the inaugural stage race.

Although he’d finished a surprising third overall in the Giro d’Italia, a race he rode to prepare himself for a Tour de France, he cratered in the Tour, finished 39th and hadn’t raced since. There were no other results to speak of: He was 0 for the season, not having won since a stage of the Criterium du Dauphine in 2012.

Fast-forward 461 days to a cold, wet day in Canada and Evans was raising a thumbs-up at the finish line, having out-kicked a breakaway group to win a cold, wet fourth stage. The end to the drought was welcome, even if the circumstances were, well, weird.

“Me in the breakaway,” he said afterward, words that sounded puzzlingly foreign. “It doesn’t happen often actually because I’m usually on general classification — and no one lets me go anywhere. So it’s been a long time since I’ve been in a breakaway that’s gone to the finish, to be honest.”

He was allowed up the road because of his deficit of more than 17 minutes to race leader Rohan Dennis (Garmin-Sharp). Evans had been using the first few days of the race to ride back in to a semblance of form — adding additional hours on the bike after the finish each day, up to 90 kilometers extra — for bigger targets later in the year.

“From my part of things the main objective this time of year is of course being good for the WorldTour races at the end of the year. No disrespect to this race but that’s the priority of my profession,” he said.

Another priority had been elusive since Evans won a Dauphine stage into Saint-Vallier in June 2012.

“Of course, race wins are the thing in our profession [but] I don’t get overly focused on it because it sort of upsets your psychology a bit,” he said.

The hope this week, he added, was “just for things to come together.”

“Mainly here this week our goal was to ride well as a team and to get ready for the other races, but riding that doesn’t mean we can’t be in the results,” he said.

His BMC team had already won a stage (Silvan Dillier on a stage 2 breakaway) and American Brent Bookwalter was second on GC, 18 seconds behind Dennis. Saturday’s plan to was try for another result and it began with 150km left of the rolling 170km course, a break of nine riders that built a lead of nearly 10 minutes by the time they hit the first of two short King of the Mountain climbs.

“My hope was that being away so long and [it] being so hilly was going to slow the other guys down a bit,” Evans said. “And me being a three-week rider, normally the harder it is the better I am in the final against the others. In the end, with the cold weather, with the rain, a bit of hills, it worked out.”

Experience, guile and even mistaken geographic identity played as much a part as endurance. Belgian Tom Jelte Slagter (Belkin) took the second of his two KOMs to secure the polka-dot jersey and towed German Simon Geschke (Argos-Shimano) with him to a open a 35-second gap on the seven other escapees, Evans among them. He urged calm.

“When those two got away, Cadel just said, ‘Keep them closer and wait,’” said Antoine Duchesne, the 21-year-old Bontrager rider who was competing here for the Canadian national team.

The second time Slagter went with Geschke, Evans said, he thought, “‘Hmm, I think they’re both from Holland, I’d better be careful here.’”

The mistaken-identity mind game worked again when Evans, Duchesne and Ben Day (UnitedHealthcare) closed the gap and again when the five men came to the final 2km together. Day took off but faded in the stretch, and Evans toyed with the other two WorldTour riders before making his winning move.

“I didn’t know Simon and [Slagter]. … I didn’t know how fast they were, but they’re both Dutch so also they’re a bit suspect, and with the trick they tried to pull before I was playing a few games there and trying to put them pressure on them,” he said.

Evans wouldn’t say the win put him back on form. But he’s getting there.

“I’d say I’m improving. I still have a ways to go,” he said. “I’m looking toward the races at the end of the year. Whether I’ll get there in time, I’ll do everything I can. I’ve been working pretty hard the last few weeks, here as well.”