Cadel Evans is feeling back to his old self ahead of a possible last shot at grand tour glory in the Giro d’Italia.
The 37-year-old Australian is missing the Tour de France, the race he won in 2011, for the first time in a decade to focus on the Italian tour, starting on Friday in Belfast.
With some encouraging build-up form, a strong BMC Racing team in support and a several big guns not racing, Evans is given a realistic shot of becoming the first Australian to win the three-week Giro.
Since his historic Tour de France triumph it hasn’t been smooth sailing for Evans, with a virus and its after-effects hampering his 2012 and 2013 seasons.
He defied that to finish third in last year’s Giro but he believes he’s back to his best in 2014 as evidenced by his victory at last month’s Giro del Trentino, a key lead-up race.
“2012 and 2013 were two very difficult years,” Evans said in Belfast on Wednesday.
“It was a new experience to try to ride well while I was ill.
“When you work as hard as before, with the same dedication, and make the same sacrifices as before – or maybe even more – and then you perform a lot worse, then it’s hard to manage mentally.
“That was very hard but now everything seems to be back to the way it was before.”
At 37, it’s unclear how many more opportunities Evans will have to lead a team in big races.
Evans’ admitted it would be hard to miss this year’s Tour de France and is unsure if he’ll race in it again.
But, content with the fact he’s already captured cycling’s biggest crown, the veteran is happy to dedicate his focus to the event where he first exploded onto the international road cycling scene in 2002.
“The team wants me to do the Giro and not the Tour so here I am at the Giro,” said Evans, who led the 2002 Giro with four stages to go before finishing 14th.
“I’m lucky things came together for me in at least one of my tours and I don’t know if I’ll race the Tour again.
“Regardless of if I do or not, I leave that relatively satisfied and now I put all my energy into the Giro.”
Evans will be one of 11 Australians on the start line on Friday.
He is the only general classification contender but in-form Australian team Orica-GreenEDGE is expected to make its presence felt.
A squad featuring the likes of featuring the likes of Brett Lancaster, Cameron Meyer and Luke Durbridge will target the famed pink leader’s jersey on day one, a 21km time trial through the streets of Belfast.
The first three stages take place in Northern Ireland and Ireland with rain and wind expected to make things challenging.
“I think most of us will be riding a little bit into the unknown, we don’t really know these conditions,” Evans said.
Colombian Nairo Quintana, runner-up to Chris Froome at last year’s Tour de France is the overall race favourite, with Spaniard Joaquin Rodriguez another leading contender.
LEADING CONTENDERS FOR OVERALL WIN
Nairo Quintana (Col)
A rising cycling star and firm favourite for this race. Was superb in last year’s Tour de France, finishing second behind Chris Froome, but this is his first Giro.
Joaquin Rodriguez (Esp)
Knocking on the door of a grand tour win in recent years and this looms as a great chance. Build up has not been ideal, however, with illness and accidents hampering his consistency.
Cadel Evans (Aus)
Team: BMC Racing
Third in this race last year and missing the Tour de France to target a win here. Has lost some of his explosive climbing power in recent years but his experience, toughness and tactical awareness make him a genuine contender.
Luke Durbridge (Orica GreenEdge)
Mitch Docker (Orica GreenEdge)
Michael Hepburn (Orica GreenEdge)
Brett Lancaster (Orica GreenEdge)
Michael Matthews (Orica GreenEdge)
Cameron Meyer (Orica GreenEdge)
David Tanner (Belkin Pro)
Nathan Haas (Garmin Sharp)
Adam Hansen (Lotto Belisol)
Chris Sutton (Team Sky)