Evans makes Giro top priority

Cadel Evans

Cadel Evans

CYCLING

Cadel Evans is feeling back to his old self before a possible last shot at grand tour glory in the Giro d'Italia.

The 37-year-old Australian is missing the Tour de France, the race he won in 2011, for the first time in a decade to focus on the Italian tour, starting on Saturday in Belfast.

With some encouraging build-up form, a strong BMC Racing team in support and several big guns not racing, Evans is given a realistic shot of becoming the first Australian to win the three-week Giro.

Since his historic Tour de France triumph it hasn't been smooth riding for Evans, with a virus and its after-effects hampering him in 2012 and 2013.

He defied that to finish third in last year's Giro but he believes he's back to his best in 2014 as evidenced by his victory at last month's Giro del Trentino, a key lead-up race.

"2012 and 2013 were two very difficult years," Evans said on Thursday.

"It was a new experience to try to ride well while I was ill.

"When you work as hard as before, with the same dedication, and make the same sacrifices as before - or maybe even more - and then you perform a lot worse, then it's hard to manage mentally.

"That was very hard but now everything seems to be back to the way it was before."

At 37, it's unclear how many more opportunities Evans will have to lead a team in big races.

But, content with the capture of cycling's biggest prize, the veteran is happy to dedicate his focus to the event where he first exploded onto the international road cycling scene in 2002.

"The team wants me to do the Giro and not the Tour, so here I am at the Giro," said Evans, who led the 2002 Giro with four stages to go before finishing 14th.

"I'm lucky things came together for me in at least one of my tours and I don't know if I'll race the Tour again.

"Regardless of if I do or not, I leave that relatively satisfied and now I put all my energy into the Giro."

Evans will be one of 11 Australians on the start line on Saturday.

He is the only general classification contender but in-form Australian team Orica-GreenEDGE is expected to make its presence felt.

A squad featuring Brett Lancaster, Cameron Meyer and Luke Durbridge will target the famed pink leader's jersey on day one, a 21-kilometre time trial.

The first three stages take place in Northern Ireland and Ireland, with rain and wind expected to make things challenging.

Colombian Nairo Quintana, runner-up to Chris Froome at last year's Tour de France, is the race favourite, with Spaniard Joaquim Rodriguez another leading contender. - AAP

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