Their roles are poles apart, but if Cadel Evans takes a leaf out of Dutchman Pieter Weening's race book, he can win the Giro d'Italia, writes Anthony Tan.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:38 PM


Au contraire, mon collègue.

Cadel need not lose the maglia rosa to anyone.

He simply needs to ride like Pieter Weening.

Weening does not have preternatural talent that Evans has, or an engine like his, which, for the most part, explains why his palmarès looks nothing like Cadel's.

Ninety-nine race days out of one hundred, Weening rides for someone other than himself. Ninety-nine race days out of one hundred, Evans rides only for himself.

Yet, Weening is the rider he is because he does for others as if he were riding for himself.

He rides as if he were Cadel Evans.

Over a decade-long pro career that began in 2004 and is clearly still going strong, his victories - and there's some good ones there; a stage at the Tour de France, three at the Giro including two this year - number just five, not to mention two overall race wins.

Likely, he could have won much more. But the lanky Dutchman choose a different path, or perhaps more correctly, because of circumstance, a different path chose him.

That path said he was better off being a strong and loyal domestique for riders capable of winning the Ardennes Classics, week-long races like Paris-Nice, Tour de Romandie and the Tour of California, and finishing in the top 10 in Grand Tours.

This is where the worlds of Weening and Evans collide.

Through meticulous preparation, assiduous attention to detail, gritty determination, and fox-like cunning, both have grown to become the best they can be.

In short, they have chosen a profession, turned it into a vocation, and, ultimately, realised their métier.

What the 33-year-old Weening did last Sunday in Sestola cannot be done by a first- or second-year pro. Not even a fifth-year one.

Not long after the 14-man break formed and established a few minutes' lead, and I scoured the names and their position on GC, then cross-referenced it to the stage profile, I knew two things. One, the strongest would not be caught, and two, Weening would win.

Many already had their minds on the rest day ahead. There were enough strong riders in the break. And none were a threat the overall classification, so Evans' BMC Racing Team was more than happy to let them go. Second, Weening already showed both his endurance and climbing form at Liège-Bastogne-Liège (he was instrumental in Simon Gerrans's victory), his power in the Giro team time trial, and his strength in keeping Michael Matthews in the maglia rosa for a wonderful week in pink.

Couple this with his experience, and my fond memories of his previous two individual Grand Tour stage victories - both on a particularly difficult parcours, both from a long break - and you were left with no other choice.

Fifteen kilometres from Sestola. 157km into the stage; midway up the climb, and coming on nine challenging race days completed, understand and admire his race smarts.

"I had been thinking about the attack for a few kilometres. I knew I had to be one of the first to attack. A lot of times when one guy is up the road, the others start looking at each other. The cooperation falls apart, and it's hard to catch the guy who is going full-gas up the road.

"The moment on the roundabout was perfect. The guys took the left side, and I took the right side. The right side was shorter, and I came out with full speed. It was the perfect moment."

Recalled Weening: "They all looked around at each other, and then it was too late."

Only Davide Malacarne (Europcar) looked like bridging across to him. Within the next kilometre, he had sized his enemy up, and, with no-one's help other than his own, decided on a change of strategy and, importantly, stuck to it.

"He (Malacarne) was riding quite strong. I was on the limit, and I couldn't open up any more distance between us. I knew if I continued like this for all the climb, I would explode. I decided to wait for him and try to attack him later. I wasn't sure if I could beat him in a sprint."

Followed by another moment of crystal-clear lucidity.

"I tried again at seven kilometres. It wasn't an attack but just going hard on the steepest part. He stayed right on my wheel. That's when I had to change plans and gamble on the sprint."

Then, in the final kilometre, cat versus mouse. A flick of the elbows saw Malacarne - a relatively inexperienced sixth-year pro with just one win to his name, not to mention an Italian on home soil - flinch first and move to the front.

Perfect for Pieter.

"I was on his wheel, and I came around him quite easy in the end," he said.

"I was stronger in the sprint. I was also quite sure the guys behind us wouldn't come back, so I wasn't thinking about them at all. I knew he was still worried about the guys behind. That's why he was still riding a little bit and why I was just waiting for the sprint."

Cat wins. Mouse eaten.

"We can do what we want, and sometimes the nicest things happen when you have that freedom," Weening said.

A train of thought not dissimilar, I suspect, to Evans' at the 2009 road worlds in Mendrisio; or the Stage 7 mud-fest at the 2010 Giro d'Italia; or Stage 18 at the 2011 Tour de France, even if he did not win that day.

In an interview in last week's Subaru World of Cycling, Evans said
of growing older gracefully: "I'd say, with experience, you may have
less energy, but you know much better when to save it and when to expend
it."

Lay the groundwork. Make the move. Establish an advantage. Size your opposition. Throw in a few dummies. Go in for the kill.

Weening's done it before, did so Sunday, and will do it again.

Cadel's done it before, and can do it again. With all his experience and all he's accomplished, he has that freedom.

SBS will broadcast every stage of the 2014 Giro d'Italia LIVE! There will be nightly highlights at 5:30pm on SBS ONE, and each stage will also be streamed live here at Cycling Central.