Evans was off the pace in the recently-completed Tirreno-Adriatico – the event he won last year en route to his famous Tour De France triumph.
Evans, the defending champion, finished the Italian stage race in an overall position of 32nd, nearly 13 minutes behind the winner Vincenzo Nibali.
It is easy to write off the result as inconsequential given how early it is in the racing season. However the concerning thing for Australian cycling fans is the huge variance in Evans’ form compared to this time last year.
Evans himself acknowledged this drop off in form in a post-race press release: “The biggest difference was the result, from first to 30-something. I didn’t have the smoothest off-season. There was the risk I wasn’t going to be at the same level”.
However, Evans does appear to be keeping the result in perspective, citing the fact that the pace had been fairly intense in this year’s race.
“Analysing it, I’m not riding so poorly, as the results might indicate. There are many people riding really hard here, there’s a very high level of competition.”
Despite Evans self-assurance, there is no doubt that he would be using last season as the blueprint for success in this year’s campaign. The fact that he has not been able to reproduce the early season form would be a concern.
Evans put it most succinctly himself when he said “My legs are not as good as they were last year at this time”.
It is difficult to know exactly what Evans was referring to when he stated “I didn’t have the smoothest off-season”. Of course he and his wife Chiara did adopt their first child in the off-season.
Family pressures would certainly have played their part. Evans has proved over the years to be a sensitive and caring individual, not purely focused on his racing like some of his peers. His stance on Tibet during the Beijing Olympics is a good example.
He is also a man who, in the past, has relished his time out of the spotlight – something he would get less of these days.
Older riders with families face different kinds of pressures to the younger riders. It was great to see Chris Horner still competitive in the Tirreno-Adriatico at 40. He gave some insight into the perennial sacrifices riders need to make to stay at the top when he commented “The most difficult thing is to say no, you have to tell your family no, tell your friends no, sometimes you have to tell your sponsors no because they can take all your time”.
No doubt it is difficult telling your wife “no” when you have recently adopted a baby from Africa, not to mention the fact that a defending Tour de France champion would have more sponsors and media commitments than just about any other rider on the tour.
As they say – the only thing harder than getting to the top is staying there. It’s way too early to suggest that Evans cannot win another Tour this year – but it will be a Herculean effort if he does.