He finished third overall last year as part of his build-up for the Tour de France, and oriented his entire season around being as good as possible in this year’s Giro d’Italia. However Cadel Evans’ goal of recreating his best form and capping his career off with a second Grand Tour success didn’t pan out in the race, and he will now take time to assess what happens next.
“Certainly eighth is well below expectations. The intention [to go for the win] is the reason why we came here,” he said after Sunday’s final stage of the Giro d’Italia. “But that is the way it is. I am not going to… I have had the whip on myself since August for this race so I am not going to whip myself any more now.
“I am very grateful to the team for their support and the opportunity to prepare this year, the opportunity to prepare a great team for this Giro.”
Evans started well in the race with his BMC Racing Team and then moved into the race lead on stage eight to Montecopiolo. With others such as Nairo Quintana (Movistar) losing time due to illness, he looked to be in a very strong position. However things started going wrong on the stage twelve time trial when he conceded time to Rigoberto Uran and was pushed down to second overall.
He insisted the race wasn’t over and vowed he would fight back but things continued to go wrong in the higher mountains. He remained second overall for several days, then on stage sixteen he suffered in the cold and dropped to third overall; the time loss continued on stage eighteen when he slipped to ninth.
Evans recovered slightly the next day to move up two places to seventh. However a tough ride on the Zoncolan saw him drop back to eighth, the position he ended up in when the race ended on Sunday.
He said that he would do what he can to accept the performance. “In the end I think we rode exceptionally well as a team. I lacked it in the mountains against my competitors, and that is something to reflect on in the near future,” he said. “But most of all I gave it my best and I am not going to have any regrets.”
That applies to this year’s Giro, and also possibly to his career. Even though he’d like to be still winning, Evans realises the value of what he achieved as a pro.
“I started late at age 25 and I think I did about sixteen starts, and three or four out of the first ten of all the three Grand Tours,” he said. “A podium in each one. Of course the win in the Tour was the highlight.”
He’s now 37 years old and the big question is if his disappointing showing in the final week of the Giro d’Italia is down to his age.
If so, it clearly means it is going to be very difficult for him to take the second Grand Tour win he’d dearly like to have before hanging up his wheels.
However if his drop in form was down to a coaching error or some other issue, it would appear to be possible for him to hit a higher level in future.
He didn’t want to be drawn on the likely causes on Sunday, saying that in the past he also had an unexpected drop in form and that there was a valid reason for this.
“The question of age of course is something people like to speculate on. Everyone gets old – we all know about that. My results…in 2011 I was at the best level of my career as a multi-day race rider. I started 2012 and from January to August 2012 I unknowingly raced with an illness. That changed everything for me. In those six or seven or eight months a lot of time passed for me, and a lot of difficulties.”
Evans doesn’t draw a clear conclusion but appears to hint that this rapid loss makes it possible that something similar could have happened to him in this year’s Giro.
“You don’t go in six months from being the best in the world [in 2011] to what I think was seventh in the Tour. It was a rapid and very unexpected decline at that point, but that is the way life goes.”
Evans is in the final year of his current contract with the BMC Racing Team and it remains to be seen if he will ink another deal or decided it’s best to call it a day when he is still at a high level. What’s clear is that he wants to clock up at least one more major victory before he does retire from the sport.
It may be hard to remain optimistic about that after losing ground in recent days, but he was one of the strongest riders in the race for much of the Giro d’Italia. Once he has had time to recover and to reflect on that, that fact will give him motivation for targets later in the year.
Riding strongly in the Vuelta a España is one possible goal; the world championships in Spain is another.
Beyond that, the weeks or months ahead will show if his racing will continue past 2014 or if this season will represent the finale to a long and very successful career.