After two years of illness, inconsistency and playing catch-up, Cadel Evans is back.
His second place last Sunday at the Australian road cycling championships is a massive result – and for a much bigger reason than going toe to toe with Simon Gerrans and Richie Porte at the finish of an epic race.
The greatest rider in Australian cycling history appears to finally have his mojo back.
BMC sporting manager Allan Peiper said Evans would go into Adelaide’s Tour Down Under next week feeling confident of a strong season ahead.
“I was out riding with the boys this morning and they’re all talking about how great Cadel looks, how ‘cut’ his legs are, how fit he looks, how good he was on Sunday,” Peiper told AAP.
“They’re all in awe of the stature that the Australian public gives him here and the performance he did on Sunday.
“He’s really gelling with those guys and I think the stage is set for a great start to the year.
“You start off well … and now it’s the momentum that starts to build.”
Evans fell ill during the 2011-12 off-season and this became an ongoing problem.
He still managed seventh in his Tour de France title defence, but Evans was clearly a level below the rider who had ridden so brilliantly a year earlier.
His problems extended into the start of last season, when Evans could not regain form.
Team management radically changed his schedule, inserting the May Giro d’Italia (Tour of Italy), and it proved a short-term masterstroke.
Evans finished third at the Giro, the best Australian result at the race.
But it hurt him at the July Tour de France, when he had his worst result of 39th.
After some strong late-season form, Evans’ frustrations continued when he crashed out of the world road championships.
On Sunday, Evans showed the benefits of a problem-free pre-season.
“2012 was a sickness-ridden year; 2013 was a reshuffling of the program, trying to get him back up to speed,” Peiper said.
“Firstly for Cadel (on Sunday), it was a really good thing to be able to perform in front of a home crowd.
“Obviously, he wanted to win the green and gold.
“But in light of how strong GreenEDGE was and also Drapac were, him securing second and feeling … he was strongest on the climbs, it shows well for Tour Down Under and coming into the new season.”
This year, Evans will miss the Tour de France for the first time since 2005 and concentrate on the Giro.
Much of the BMC Tour Down Under team and their support staff will be at the May Giro.
“This is Cadel’s cocoon, which I think is strategically really good for him,” he said.
BMC badly want a big Tour Down Under, given one of world cycling’s top teams have not fulfilled their potential over the past two years.
“The important thing is we kick off the 2014 year with a bang,” Peiper said.
He expects a tight Tour Down Under and says Gerrans, Evans and Porte are the men to beat for the overall title.
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