Fitness or team morale: Evans's dilemma with his Tour preparations
Cadel Evans on the victory podium of the Criterium Internationale. It is BMC's only victory this season. Photo: AFP
Cadel Evans's preparation for the Tour de France is delicately poised, as he wrestles with an infection that forced him to stop in Sunday's Amstel Gold Race in the Netherlands.
The defending Tour champion is walking the tightrope of helping his teammates in the European spring classics while being healthy for the stage races to come.
Evans, who rides for BMC, withdrew from the Amstel Gold race with 65km go as Enrico Gasparotto (Astana) went on to win the one-day classic. The Italian overtook Evans's teammate Philippe Gilbert of Belgium on the Cauberg climb to the finish line in Valkenburg after BMC spent most of the race having riders near the front of the peloton that reeled in the nine-man breakaway.
Battling illness ... Evans before the Amstel Gold Race. Photo: AFP
Evans said that his focus now was to "get healthy" as soon as he could, as he is scheduled to race the Tour of Romandy (April 24-29) in Switzerland.
The Australian also hopes to start in the two Ardennes classics in Belgium this week - Wednesday's Fleche-Wallonne and Sunday's Liege-Bastogne-Liege - in a bid to help Gilbert, who showed his return to form with a sixth place in the Amstel Gold Race.
Evans showed he has not lost his spirit though. Asked how he felt after he had stopped, the Australian quipped with a laugh: "Right now I am warm and comfortable in the [team] bus."
Then, as the race continued on without him, Evans elaborated on his condition, saying: "I am a bit disappointed that I am not at the front with the guys right now. I've had nine or 10 days with a bit of a problem with an infection.
"I didn't know know if I was going to be good here or not. Evidently I am not good enough to be competitive ... I'm not able to help the guys in the final [part of the race] today."
Pressed on how he would tackle the coming days, Evans said: "First get healthy. It's a bit hard to do with the weather conditions in this hard racing. But hopefully [he will] come around, maybe for Fleche and Liege and at least be useful for the team - and for me personally to be good for Romandy ... But first of all, [the priority is to] get healthy."
The dilemma facing Evans now is at what point will racing this week help or hinder him. Competing may improve his race condition and assist the team clinch their first one-day classic win of the year but it could also delay his return to a clean bill of health?
The cold conditions in the hilly Ardennes in Belgium will expose anyone not at their top level.
However, it is also clear that Evans wants to help Gilbert and his teammates.
Evans knows that after Sunday's Liege-Bastogne-Liege race the focus will turn towards him as he tackles his final races before the Tour starts on June 30.
A classic win for BMC now, after several near-misses, will do wonders for team morale as the calender steers towards racing in tours.
It is also the period of the season where the team accommodates the individual ambitions of big-name riders such as Gilbert and Thor Hushovd. BMC has made it clear that helping Evans defend the Tour is their priority this year, but that blocks of racing outside of the Tour - such as the current European spring classics - are the times when others can ride for themselves.
Furthermore, Evans is also aware that if he is an asset to his teammate now, they will reciprocate in the Tour de France.
The situation is not a crisis - far from it. And judging by Gilbert's race on Sunday, that elusive classic win could be just around the corner.
But for Evans the "nine to 10 days" duration of his infection is cause for some concern and the priority - right now - should be to rectify it before the Tour of Romandy.
And judging by BMC team president Jim Ochwwicz, that is how the team regards the issue. “Cadel suffered a little bit from some health issues, a cold, nasal thing. He's fine,” Ochowicz told VeloNews.com on Sunday. “He's not going to get worse. He's stable. We are here for Flèche and Liège. We want to keep him healthy and motivated.”