I don’t want to alarm anyone, but Cadel Evans has ridden himself back into excellent form just in time for the Vuelta a Espana.
That’s the only conclusion you can draw when the Australian bagged two consecutive stage wins in the Tour of Utah.
Yes, the Tour of Utah (UCI 2.1) is hardly a Grand Tour quality field, but it is raced at high altitude over some genuinely tough climbs. Utah’s mountains are no joke.
Evans won the queen stage (stage 6) which peaked at Guardsman Pass, 2960m above sea level, and had a summit finish to Snowbird (2,440m). For reference, the Col du Galibier, one of the highest passes raced in the Tour de France, tops out at 2,645m.
He backed up with victory in stage 7, in an absolutely masterful display of bike racing. Seriously, it was one of those rides where it looked like he was racing against suburban crit riders instead of experienced World Tour pros. It was a killing.
On the final climb, Evans had a group of four riders ahead of him, including GC leader and eventual winner Tom Danielson (Garmin-Sharp), 2013 Vuelta winner Chris Horner (Lampre) and his teammate Winner Anacona (a Colombian) and Belkin’s highly-rated Wilco Kelderman (7th at the Giro, 4th at the Dauphine this year).
Evans attacked with US continental pro Carter Jones (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies) in his wheel, trying to bridge across. The pair hit the summit 15 seconds behind the leaders, and closing fast.
At this stage the US-based commentators were already convinced the stage belonged to Evans. It was ominous. The best was yet to come.
Evans launched himself down the mountain like, well, the TV commentator described it thus:
“Where is the red comet from BMC? He’s falling from the sky and he’s burning up the atmosphere…”
It was thrilling, and effortless. He reached the tail of the lead group with miles to spare, had time to finish his water bottle, shake out his legs, tighten his shoes, and hang around a few metres behind the group, stalking Anacona like cat toying with a mouse.
Then it was time to win.
Evans accelerated into the final bend as his rivals braked, punched it hard out of the apex, and it was all over, red rover. Clinical.
So, what does this mean for a Vuelta with perhaps its best quality field in recent memory?
Well, it means that Evans has bounced back from the Giro with his fitness and his confidence high. You don’t win at high altitude unless you’re in pretty amazing shape, and two stage wins is a big boost to your confidence.
Now, I’m not going to sit here blowing smoke rings and tell you Cadel Evans is going to win the Vuelta.
Chris Froome, Nairo Quintana and Rigoberto Uran would all have to fall off their bikes (again) for him to win.
What I am saying is that Evans might be an outside chance at a podium result in Spain.
Look at the next rung of GC riders, and it’s hard to say that many have had as good a preparation as Evans.
I’m talking about the likes of Wilco Kelderman, Richie Porte, Fabio Aru, Laurens Ten Dam, Carlos Betancur, Ryder Hesjedal, Dan Martin, Alejandro Valverde, Joaquim Rodriguez, Warren Barguil and Thibaut Pinot.
Half of those riders have the Tour in their legs, and are likely to be tested to exhaustion by three weeks in the Spanish heat. The other half are in the same boat as Evans, returning to Grand Tour racing after riding the Giro.
None of the latter group has yet shown the form that Evans showed in Utah.
Another factor in Evans’ favour is that this Vuelta is not as offensive as previous editions. Although has has a number of summit finishes, it doesn’t hit its really big peaks until stage 15, when it climbs to the Lagos de Covadonga. Stage 20 to Puerto de Ancares has the only other above-category summit finish of the whole race.
Both of these are tasty climbs and they’ll be raced muy picante, but they don’t have the ridiculously steep ramps of the Angliru.
Damage will have to be done with aggressive racing on the various Category 1 summit finishes in stages 6, 9, 11, 14 and 16.
The last week will be the hardest, with summit finishes on stages 14, 15, 16 and 20. It’s by no means easy, but the difficulty seems to be dialled back slightly from previous years.
The 2014 Vuelta also has two individual time trials (one 35km long and mostly downhill; one short and flat) and a team time trial. These should suit Evans.
I don’t expect huge time gaps. It’ll be a scrap for seconds here and there. That suits the veteran Australian.
I’m as surprised as anyone to be sitting here writing this, but I’m really starting to think that Cadel is a chance for another good Grand Tour result. What do you think?
This article first appeared on The Roar.