Tough calls loom for Evans and Wiggins

Al Hinds

cycling,giro d'italia,ITA,grand tour,bradley wiggins,cadel evans,sky,bmc,tour de france
Pretender, contender and the mystery package... How does the form so far of Bradley Wiggins, Vincenzo Nibali and Cadel Evans bode for the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France. (Getty Images)

Choices, choices. Team Sky's always had them, BMC's suddenly been gifted them, and some teams are bereft of them. They do, however, make for interesting dynamics in every team as the Giro d'Italia heats up, and the Tour de France looms, writes Al Hinds.

Does the pull for pink outweigh the glint of yellow down the road?

I've been surprised, to say the least, at what the Giro has thrown up so far. Not the displays of animated racing, nor the wet and wild descents, the crash-marred sprints, or the tifosi packing the roadsides. No, the Giro was always going to be an excellent race, an excellent spectacle. It always is.

But what appeared an almost predestined podium, when the Giro arrived at Brescia, has become far from it with still more than a week to race. I'll put my hand up and say I had Wiggins pencilled in for a place near the top of the dais, and, if things went well, his name engraved on that eye-catching trophy.

This just hasn't been Brad's year, though. Far from his imperious best, he's lacked the authority-stamping time trial displays, the unflinching ability on the climbs or, for that matter his 2012 honour guard.

Sure, he's talked the talk, but he's been rattled at the Giro, and was clearly not a cool head at Trentino. Two fifth-place overalls, at Trentino and Catalunya are far from his undefeated run last year. His performance on the descents has left much to be desired, and you get the feeling that his head isn't totally at the Giro.

With Rigoberto Uran, Team Sky has a viable back-up plan, one that's looking far more the form rider than Sir Brad. But where does that leave our beleaguered Brit?

For me, it means pulling the pin early, or at the very least not going as deep in the final week of the race as some of his rivals with a view to the Tour. And if Wiggins's curious and ambiguous comments since early last year are anything to go by, perhaps that was the plan all along. Admittedly that's a long bow, but it's something I'm sure is weighing on Wiggins's mind.

“Yeah, it depends how it plays out really,” said Wiggins after Stage 10, hinting as much. “I’ll have to speak to Rigoberto (Uran) tonight. He went all out, for the stage; it’s just whether he feels now he can go for the GC.”

That will again bring the Wiggins-Froome relationship to a head, which, let's face it, we'd all love to see as it would make for another fascinating Tour. Act Two, with all the history of the last 12 months. Mouth-watering.

The choice, which, falls to Sky to switch its leader, and to Wiggins to redouble his efforts for an unlikely Tour defence, remains open.

Meanwhile, for Australian fans, Cadel Evans's performance has buoyed hopes of a first maglia rosa falling to the budding cycling nation. As the unpredictable goes, that's not totally left field, Evans is a classy rider, but it has caught much of the mainstream media, many of Evans's rivals and myself by surprise.

The Australian, off a truncated preparation for the Giro, sits second overall with the high mountains ahead. Completely under the radar, he's chipped away from a disappointing team time trial to wearer of the maglia rossa (red) and still has a real shot for pink.

For a guy that came to the Giro lacking racing miles and results, it's pretty remarkable. But then the 2011 Tour de France champion is a remarkable rider.

The deeper Evans rides into the Giro, though, the more fatigue is likely to get the better of him come the Tour de France. A runner has one good marathon in him a year, an ironman targets Hawaii, and a cyclist one Grand Tour.

Evans will get stronger as the Giro continues, which bodes well for his chances of adding a second Grand Tour title to his name, but what of the Tour? Does the pull for pink outweigh the glint of yellow down the road? The Gavia, Tre Cime de Lavaredo, Galibier, Sestriere, the Stelvio; it's a leg-sapping final week, and any bickies spent now will come to haunt Evans (or Wiggins) in June and July.

At the Tour, Evans will have a fresh Tejay van Garderen nursing his own ambitions. In Italy he's got only himself to be concerned about and you get the sense that that's the way he prefers it.

And then there's the guy that could make a lot of this prognosticating completely superfluous: Vincenzo Nibali. The Astana rider has no Tour bid to worry about, has a totally committed team, and has the physical condition to match. With all of Italy behind him, the boost of wearing pink, descending nous that's among the best in the world, and approaching his best years, it's hard to see him being overcome.

Sometimes, singular missions reap the most rewards. Tour-bound Chris Froome, Alberto Contador and Joaquim Rodriguez all seem to think so. Base your year around a race, go to the race to win, and win said race. Who needs distractions to get in your way? Wiggins and Evans have always practised that mantra previously, and I’m sure they’re experienced enough to know  that sacrifice is necessary for major success. But what will that sacrifice be?

Whatever lies ahead, it makes for fascinating viewing.

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