In no uncertain terms this season stands as Cadel Evans’ best chance to win a second yellow jersey and secure what would be a famous victory at the 100th edition of the Tour de France.
The 2011 champion indicated he is tracking well in 2013, with a third-place finish behind rival general classification riders Christopher Froome of Team Sky and Saxo-Tinkoff star Alberto Contador at last week’s Tour of Oman.
Evans has returned to Europe to amp up his Tour preparation with this weekend’s Gran Premio di Lugano, a race dominated by Italian riders in recent times, including Grand Tour stage and race winner Ivan Basso, who scored a rare one-day race victory in 2011.
The Gran Premio di Lugano will serve as a confidence booster for both Basso annd Evans ahead of a sold month of racing in March, with the Australian set to line up at the Strade Bianche, the popular Tirreno-Adratico and will return to the Criterium International to defend his 2012 victory.
Last season, the 2009 world champion had his year turned upside down due to an ongoing illness that contributed to his seventh place at the Tour de France and withdrawal from the London Olympics.
The third placing at the Tour of Oman proved the viral infection that plagued Evans 2012 is long gone, and a strong winter preparation has the former mountain bike racer back on the right path after six weeks off the bike.
Evans spoke post Oman about how he had not fully recovered, but was in a good state for this time of the season and was excited to be back at the front of the peloton.
Having turned 36 this month, Evans will no doubt be keen to prove he still has the drive to match it with the likes of Contador, Wiggins, and Froome, but one major threat looks to come from within his own team.
The Australians understudy at BMC, American Tejay van Garderen impressed last season with his ability to lead BMC at the Tour in Evans physical absence.
He finished fifth, claimed the white jersey for best young rider and had bosses at BMC rubbing their hands together with an obvious, seamless transition in front of them.
Evans’ experience should play into his hands and future Grand Tour star Garderen will have to wait one more season to take the lead at BMC but the question over who rides for who is a reasonable one.
It has become evident over the past couple of months that last season’s defending Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins is destined to focus on winning the Giro d’Italia, handing the Tour reins over to teammate Froome.
Will BMC suffer the same leadership issues that Sky had to confront on stage 17 at last year’s Tour, when Froome looked set to ride off on Wiggins before being instructed to return and support the Wiggins through the final stretch of mountains?
Contador’s return at the tail end of 2012 was timely, allowing the Spaniard the opportunity to ride and win the Vuelta a Espana and execute a winter schedule that would set him up for a big 2013.
He showed his strength in the mountains alongside Froome, where Evans seemed to lack the staying power to finish 39 seconds a drift at the Tour of Oman.
Is Evans a real chance to roll into Paris with yellow on his back? Only time will tell but you can’t ever write off his fight and grit to get the most out of his bike through the mountains of France.