Evans on course for Giro triumph

Kisses for Australian Michael Matthews after storming home to win the sixth stage of the Giro d'Italia. Picture: AP
Kisses for Australian Michael Matthews after storming home to win the sixth stage of the Giro d'Italia. Picture: AP

MONTECASSINO: STAY up the front, get lucky, avoid the crashes and gain precious time on key rivals.

The opening week of Cadel Evans's Giro d'Italia campaign is bearing a strong resemblance to his 2011 Tour de France triumph.

As fellow Australian cyclist Michael Matthews continued his dream Giro with a stage win, Evans moved into second overall and is positioned perfectly.

Evans is only 21 seconds down on Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE), who has led the race since stage two but is not a threat for the overall title in the three-week Grand Tour.

What is far more important for Evans is that the BMC team leader avoided two major crashes about 11 kilometres from the end of stage six.

He gained time on all his main rivals in the 257-km stage from Sassano to Montecassino.

Fellow contender Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) is out of the Giro after the Spaniard suffered a broken finger and two broken ribs in the crash chaos.

Of Evans's other key rivals, Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) is third overall at one minute 18 seconds and fellow Colombian Nairo Quintana (Movistar) is 11th at 2:08.

It is strikingly similar to the strong team riding and good fortune that marked Evans's opening week in the 2011 Tour.

He went on to make sports history as the first Australian Tour de France champion.

Evans's third place last year is also the best Australian finish at the Giro.

There will be criticism that Evans, Matthews and the six other members of the front group did not wait for the rest of the field after the two crashes at the foot of the climb to the stage-six finish.

But Evans said it was unclear what had happened behind them.

"The communication in the final isn't clear and to make rational decisions for such an unexpected situation isn't easy," he said in a team statement.

"Our job is to race and to race to the finish - that's the first thing on our mind.

"What happened behind, I really have no idea. I haven't seen it.

"Unfortunately, it has been a very bad day for some of the riders."

Matthews's teammate and fellow Australian Brett Lancaster is out of the Giro with a broken hand and will need surgery.

Canadian Orica-GreenEDGE rider Svein Tuft, who led the Giro for the first two stages, lost a lot of skin and might also have to pull out.

Separately, Australian teammate Cameron Meyer fell ill before stage six and although he finished the day's racing he will pull out if his condition does not improve.

But regardless of the casualties, the Australian team are celebrating Matthews's stage win.

It follows their stage-one success in the team time trial.

Matthews outsprinted Belgian Tim Wellens (Lotto Belisol) and Evans was third. He now has four Grand Tour stage wins after also picking up two victories at last year's Vuelta a Espana.

"I owe so much to the team for bringing me in the position to win a hilltop finish in the pink jersey," Matthews said. AAP


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