Cadel Evans gave every indication a coveted Giro d’Italia title at age 37 is a genuine prospect as he surged to a second placing on the first uphill finish.
Cold, rain, slippery roads and reduced visibility made the tough 203km leg from Taranto to Viggiano a severe fourth stage test but Evans emerged happy despite being pipped to the line by Italy’s Diego Ulissi.
“The way I performed today is confirmation that I am in good form,” said Evans. “That is very satisfying.”
The stage results pushed Evans (BMC) up to third in the overall standings, just 15 seconds behind leader and countryman Michael Matthews, who rode gamely for sixth and gets to wear the famed pink jersey for a fourth day, a record for an Australian.
“I still haven’t won a stage, which I really wanted, but I’m still in the pink jersey and we’ll try again to fight to win tomorrow’s stage,” said Matthews.
The Australian-owned Orica-GreenEdge team continued to lead to way in the race, as they’ve done since winning the opening stage team time trial in Ireland, with Matthews in first and Dutch teammate Pieter Weening second.
But inevitably the focus is on 2011 Tour de France champion Evans, who has made the three-week grand tour his big goal for the year.
Evans has come close at the Giro before, finishing fifth in 2010 and third last year but this is the first time he has built his entire season around the race.
His ride on Wednesday confirmed the fine form he showed when he won the Giro del Trentino, a traditional lead-up race, last month.
He had praise for the work of the powerful team BMC selected to back him in his quest.
“We’ve all worked really well, not only in the team time trial but also putting me into the right position today,” Evans said.
“It’s all coming together really well and as each day passes well see more and more changes in the GC (general classification).
“The cold, the rain … the roads were slippery at the end and the visibility was reduced,” said Evans, who has won just the one stage in the Giro in his career but won the points title in 2010.
Matthews’s Orica team had performed impressively in running down an 11-man breakaway which at one point had a lead of six minutes over the peloton.
A further attack by Italian Gianluca Brambilla was also brought to an end 1500 metres from the finish as the Katusha team of experienced Spaniard Joaquim Rodriguez reeled him in.
Evans launched the sprint for the line but Ulissi went past him and eased home, for his third stage win of the season.