Giro D'Italia: Is Cadel Evans Primed for His Second Grand Tour Success?

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Giro D'Italia: Is Cadel Evans Primed for His Second Grand Tour Success?
Associated Press
Cadel Evans celebrates his first full day in the pink shirt after successfully completing Stage 9 of the Giro d'Italia.

Plenty has changed in cycling since Cadel Evans proudly wore the maillot jaune on the top spot of the famous Champs-Elysees podium in 2011.

As it relates to the Australian, Team Sky's dominance through Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome has made repeating his Tour de France victory difficult. Vincenzo Nibali and Alberto Contador are the other most prominent hindrances to leading a general classification over three weeks, while timing and great form blessed then-41-year-old Chris Horner in this format at last year's Vuelta a Espana before it did Evans again.

Michael Steele/Getty Images
Cadel Evans got the better of the Schleck brothers in 2011 to top the podium at the Tour de France.

Within the ranks of his BMC team, the 37-year-old has had to deal with another cyclist with GC aspirations, the American Tejay van Garderen. Along with periodic struggles for form and unhelpful niggles, it has all conspired to make yellow in 2011 seem further away than it actually is.

While Evans will always have Paris, the prospect of a second Grand Tour is looking the closest it has since those heady July days in which he cannily saw off the dual threat of the Schleck brothers (a close call that is incidentally looking more and more like a last hurrah for them, especially Andy).

With nine stages of the 2014 Giro d'Italia completed, Evans is the current man in pink, leading second-place Rigoberto Uran Uran of Omega Pharma—Quick-Step by 57 seconds.

Evans has not been shy in expressing his gratitude at the efforts of his team-mates. The above Twitter post followed Stage 8's fifth place, a finish which was more than enough to see him take the pink jersey from compatriot Michael Matthews. "All thanks to the great work the guys have done since we started in Ireland," Evans added on his official website diary.

Fabio Ferrari/Associated Press/Associated Press
Evans rode into pink on Stage 8 of this year's Giro after fine work by him and his BMC team in the first trip into the mountains.

The race's move into the mountains on this testing Saturday ultimately took the leader's spot from Orica-GreenEDGE's week-long grasp—Matthews is a stout rider but not a man to lead over the steepest of hills—but BMC did not just accept itthey grabbed it with both hands.

The latest (albeit perhaps temporary) addition to Evans' wardrobe was collected after the aforementioned "great work." The unscathed veteran contentiously forced a split two days earlier on the road to Montecassino after a sequence of awful crashes in which several of his rivals were ensnared.

Where that caused debate, the method behind Stage 8's efforts were commendable rather than controversial.

The ascents of Category 1 climbs up Cippo Di Carpegna and Montecopiolo, with Category 2 Villaggio Del Lago in between, were intriguing rather than thrilling for the GC hopefuls (though the battle for the day's win—which went to Lampre-Merida's Diego Ulissia—certainly made for exciting viewing).

Fabio Ferrari/Associated Press
Evans has been ably supported by his BMC team-mates.

The likes of Uran, Movistar's Nairo Quintana, AG2r La Mondiale's Domenico Pozzovivo and former Giro winners Ivan Basso (Cannondale) and Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) all looked comfortable traversing the testing ascents.

Evans looked especially content among this bunch.

Victory at last month's Giro del Trentino as well as some promising showings in January's Tour Down Under suggest he has been feeling good for sometime. He also has as potentially strong a team around him as he has had since joining BMC in 2010.

Swiss rider Steve Morabito was right up there with Evans on Stage 8, powering up the sharp inclines. Longtime Euskaltel-Euskadi man Samuel Sanchez found the going a little tougher, but the experienced climber was close enough to suggest he could yet prove useful for his team leader.

The misfortune which has befallen several riders already in a crash-strewn Giro will serve as a warning to the BMC boys not to get complacent with two weeks of racing still ahead. Nonetheless, they will be encouraged by their start and Evans' lead.

Gian Mattia D'Alberto/Associated Press/Associated Press
Evans has enjoyed the best Giro so far of the pre-race favourites, which included Nairo Quintana and Ivan Basso (second from and far right respectively).

This tilt at the Giro has been planned by Evans since at least last summer. Speaking last August via The Guardian, he declared his intention to focus on Italy's Grand Tour rather than taking on the Tour de France again.

With Contador's, Froome's and Nibali's sights trained on July, Evans is not having to contend with the strongest possible competition. Nonetheless, the typically grueling course and the calibre of those competing ensure that if Evans is to improve on his career-best third (2013) in the Giro, he will have earned it.

Pozzovivo's late attack on Sunday to regain some seconds on the race leader was a reminder of the challenges which remain.

For his part, Evans was under no illusion as to what he would need to win when he spoke to the inCycle TV pre-race (video above):

For me to get on the top step of the podium it is going to take a very, very consistent and climbing ability to be with the best climbers every day in the mountains. It is a very mountainous Giro, and I think that is going to be key, being consistent in the mountaintop finishes. And there are many of those.

The next substantial test of this assessment, and perhaps Evans' Giro credentials (though a time trial also takes place before it), comes this Saturday over 162 kilometers to Oropa, with four climbs at Category 3 or higher to test the legs.

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