Curse of the Rainbow Jersey? What curse? Cadel Evans was hardly the most prolific of riders as it was, but it did not take the new world champion long to open his account for BMC after causing a glorious upset at Mendrisio in 2009. If it had been a gamble – albeit a lucrative one – joining the new Swiss-based pro-continental BMC Racing Team for the 2010 season, Evans hit the ground running with victory in La Flèche Wallonne off the back of a couple of podium places in the Tour Down Under.
And he did his world champion’s jersey proud on Stage 7 of the Giro d’Italia – not that you could see the iconic rainbow bands through the mud. In the commentary box for Eurosport that day, David Harmon had a few apologetic words to some of the sport’s newer fans once the live coverage picked up after an ad break.
“We know there are so many new cycling fans coming through, and we do normally try to point out the colour of the jerseys whenever we can,” he said. “Now, I don’t think there’s much point at the moment. You’ll just have to take our word for it. We’ll try and tell you who’s who. But as far as colours go today – forget it.”
Tour de France
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On a day that has written itself into the annals of the sport, Evans fought through abysmal conditions as the so-called ‘white roads’ of Tuscany turned to squelching, cloying mud in the persistent rain. Tapping into his mountain bike background, the 33-year-old made light work of the brown strade bianche to win ahead of Damiano Cunego and Alexandre Vinokourov.
“Like everything in life,” Evans says tells Eurosport more than a decade after his muddy win in Montalcino, “things go in cycles. It’s amazing that a strade bianche stage in the Giro that would probably not have been so interesting 100 years ago is now one of the most interesting and talked about stages in the race’s history.”

‘So much to lose’ – Evans on why GC contenders will fear gravel on Stage 11

Eleven years on and retired from a career that would see him crowned Australia’s first ever Tour de France winner, Evans has fond memories of “a really special victory” for both him and his burgeoning BMC team.
“It’s a race for which I’m remembered,” he says. “And a lot of people have asked me about it over the years. I’ve recounted stories about that day so many times. It was a day with these extreme temperature changes that you get in the Giro. You get used to the warm weather, and then you get snowed on: just ask Andy Hampsten. Your body shuts down because you’re not used to such cold weather.”
With the Maglia Rosa Vincenzo Nibali and his Liquigas team leader Ivan Basso crashing ahead of the first gravel section, a selection formed around former race leader Alexandre Vinokourov of Kazakhstan. When Evans rode across to the Astana rider on the strade bianche, the race was well and truly on – and the wheels in motion for an unforgettable hour that would see Evans cross the line first and Vino back on top of the General Classification.
“It was cold, raining, long, and there were crashes, and you didn’t know what was going on because of the mud and everything,” Evans recalls. “Yeah, it was a pretty dramatic day.”

Alexandre Vinokourov and Cadel Evans in the break during stage 7 of the 2010 Giro d'Italia

Image credit: Getty Images

Setting the scene: BMC’s baptism

Evans’ stellar solo win in Switzerland to deny home favourite Fabian Cancellara the world title in Mendrisio had been unexpected. He might not have been an established one-day Classics rider, but the Australian had certainly made a name for himself in the Grand Tours since turning pro with Mapei-QuickStep in 2002.
He’d made the top 10 on GC in four of his first five Tours de France, twice coming runner-up by a margin of seconds, not minutes (to Alberto Contador in 2007 and then Carlos Sastre one year later). He’d also finished on the podium of the Vuelta a month before taking the Rainbow Jersey, and he headed to the Giro to spearhead BMC’s first campaign with an element of unfinished business: he’d come 14th in his first and only Giro in 2002, twice flirting with a stage win. Victory in the Flèche and a fourth place in Liège-Bastogne-Liège underlined the world champion’s form going into 2010’s Grand Tour curtain raiser.
“It was my first year with BMC and we weren’t even in the WorldTour,” Evans recalls. “As their GC rider, I had to prepare for the Giro knowing that we’d probably end up getting invited to the Tour. And sure enough, in my last training camp I was riding up a climb in Sierra Nevada and I got a text message saying that we were among the Tour invites.”
Confirmation that BMC would be heading to Rotterdam for the Tour’s Grand Départ was a bonus, but also a slight distraction. Evans was already focusing on the Amsterdam Grande Partenza, so in the event it was a question of going Double Dutch and riding the Tour off the back of the Giro.
“I couldn’t really plan my season around the Tour, because I didn’t know if we were going to be there,” he says. “So I had to go all-in for the Giro and see how it played out. The Giro was my first Grand Tour, in 2002, and having always been coached at Mapei by Aldo Sassi and Andrea Morelli, and been involved in Italian cycling, it’s always been a really special race for me.”
In particular, Evans and his team had circled the seventh stage to Montalcino as one to target – even if he’d finished six minutes back in that year’s sun-kissed fourth edition of Strade Bianche two months earlier, in what was his first taste of the famous Tuscan farm roads in race conditions.
“Going to the strade bianche in the Giro was always going to be special for me,” says Evans. “And at BMC I had a really good team behind me to help me prepare for that race with equipment and reconnaissance. We really planned for that stage very carefully. When it all came together in the end, a lot of people were a bit wide-eyed, but also happy for all the hard work we’d done. It had all come together.”
Of course, waking up to an almighty downpour that morning only played into Evans’ hands even further.
“I was already very well prepared for the stage,” he continues. “But when I saw it was raining, I was really happy. Going back to my mountain bike days, I was a pretty well-balanced all-round rider, but I could excel in the mud and the extreme conditions. So you put in an extreme stage like that – and it wasn’t just extreme, it was really quite muddy – and I was in my element.”

BMC Racing Team rider Cadel Evans of Australia holds his bike as he arrives at the cycling team's official presentation in Nazareth, near Ghent (Reuters)

Image credit: Eurosport

Landslide leads to a change of course

Eurosport picked up its live TV coverage of the stage with around 75km remaining. Two riders were up the road – Rick Flens of Rabobank and Nicki Sørensen of Saxo Bank – with the Katusha team of Filippo Pozzato leading the chase.
“There’s a lot of glory to go for today on the strade bianche and a lot of difficult riding to be done as well,” David Harmon said with raindrops streamed across the aerial camera lens, the images disrupted by frequent fits of fuzz and reverb.
Owing to a mudslide, a last-minute change of parcours had seen the second-category climb to Volterra scrapped from the stage. Instead, the riders were re-routed as they twisted their way deeper into the Tuscan hills and towards those decisive sections of strade bianche looming on the horizon. A fast pace along the coast had discouraged any early moves. But the leading duo had nevertheless managed to establish a gap pushing 10 minutes by the time the race passed through the feed zone halfway through the 220km-long stage.
The rolling terrain that followed sounded the death knell for the two escapees. The foul weather, coupled with the pace, had caused the peloton to split in two with 60km remaining. It would not come back together. With 50km remaining, only two minutes separated the leaders from the main pack, with the second group a further minute back.
“The weather is foul today and there’s been a big split in the peloton,” Harmon said as he welcomed the viewers back from a break. The Astana team of Vinokourov had come to the front to neutralise the break ahead of the Passo del Rospatoio. The Kazakh veteran had gone into pink after Stage 3 only to lose it when Astana could post only the fifth-fastest time in the team time trial a day later. Victory in the TTT had put three Liquigas riders into the top three places on GC, with Vincenzo Nibali in pink ahead of team leader Ivan Basso, the 2006 Giro champion, and a third Italian, Valerio Agnoli, in third and wearing the White Jersey as best young rider.
With the conditions taking their toll on the riders well ahead of the famous dirt roads, co-commentator Sean Kelly summed up the relative calm before the storm: “Already the bunch is really pulled out, riders losing contact, gaps appearing everywhere. It’s turning out to be a more difficult day than a lot of the riders and I expected. With the conditions, the average of 44km per hour for the day, some of the riders are paying the price.”

Nicki Sorensen and Rick Flens in the break of stage 7 of the 2010 Giro d'Italia

Image credit: Getty Images

Nibali ditches the race lead

The complexion of the race changed in an instant on the descent off the Passo del Rospatoio, where the wheels came off for Liquigas. Typically, the TV coverage was on a break quando verrà fuori tutto il casino. Or, as we say in English: when the s*** hit the fan.
“Complete disaster for the Liquigas riders. The race leader is on the floor!” Harmon said as the images repeated what – or, more precisely, who – went down while fans were being flogged car insurance tips and reminded of the holidaying potential of Turkey.
The incident occurred on a sweeping right-hander after Italy’s Michele Scarponi skidded on the slippery surface. Nibali and Agnoli were unable to avoid their compatriot, both ending up in a ditch on the side of the road along with a third Liquigas rider. Then, just as they were picking themselves up and inspecting their bikes, Basso, who must have been chasing back onto the main bunch after visiting the team car, also hit the deck on the exact same spot to complete the comedy of errors.
“I hurt my leg and for a few minutes I could barely move the pedals,” Nibali later told the media after what proved to be a dark day for the 25-year-old Sicilian. At the time of the incident, which also saw the 2008 Tour de France champion Carlos Sastre go down, what remained of the pack was really strung out as a break was forming off the front around Vinokourov – adding extra piquancy to proceedings.
As Evans recalls: “We were doing that descent and I was actually fine because I knew how slippery the road was. Then we saw the Liquigas guys lying in the drain on the side of the road. Of course, I decided to keep riding because there was a good group ahead. That was the start of the mess – and just about to get on to the first section of gravel.”

Vincenzo Nibali and Ivan Basso in stage 7 of the 2010 Giro d'Italia

Image credit: Getty Images

It was the rangy German Linus Gerdemann who was forcing the pace on the front of the pack, with six riders eventually going clear – including Vinokourov, the 2000 Giro champion Stefano Garzelli, the Belgian Jan Bakelants, and Gerdemann’s Milram teammate, Thomas Rohregger. Caught in two worlds, the break looked to have eased up as news filtered through on the radio that the race leader had hit the deck. Rohregger, however, was having none of it, the Austrian kicking clear to win the intermediate sprint with 32km remaining.
“There’s a fine line… and Rohregger’s on the wrong side of it at the moment,” Harmon said on comms, referring to cycling’s unwritten rule of not attacking while the race leader is down. When Nibali and Basso came through the sprint, they were two minutes down, and Vinokourov – the dangerman on GC – had begun to assume control of the selection.
"I'm sorry that Nibali crashed in a key moment of the race, but it's difficult to be a gentleman 30km from the finish, with the dirt roads to come,” the Kazakh rider later said. “I was at the front because it was a critical part of the race and wanted to hit the dirt roads first.”
Speaking to Eurosport, Vinokourov, now the Astana team manager, reiterates that the breakaway had formed before the crash took place. “We slowed a bit to respect fair-play, but it was already each man for himself,” he says. “Everyone was riding their own race. If it had occurred earlier in the stage, perhaps we would have stopped. But it was the last 30km.”
Harmon revelled in the quagmire of the first segment of strade bianche, even shoehorning in a reference to the floods that had recently devastated Tennessee:
“Oh, look where we have arrived: it’s the strade bianche, and this normally hard, compact surface. I said the biggest problem with this is usually dust – well, all that dust has formed a slick on the top. You might as well get President Obama to clear this lot up. It’s just like that. It’s horrible. We’ve already seen two or three riders sliding really wide on corners, and it’s going to be an absolute carnage-fest if we’re not careful. This is really revolting stuff.”
One rider, however, was relishing the challenge.

Dario Cataldo during stage 7 of the 2010 Giro d'Italia

Image credit: Getty Images

Evans joins Vino in the break

With Nibali, Basso and Agnoli over a minute back and not getting any closer to joining the main field, and Sastre even further back, the world champion had decided an acceleration would not be bringing the soiled Rainbow Jersey across his broad shoulders into disrepute. Sportsmanship is one thing – but it reaches a point when you have to ride.
“It was a difficult situation,” Evans recalls. “In my mind I was like: ‘Should I ride or not?’ Then I was like: ‘Well, they’re not catching us, and they’re riding away in front, so I can ride to the front.’ You’re trying to race like a gentleman, but in sport you don’t roll out the red carpet for your competitors either. There are no prizes for being the most gentlemanly in sport.”
What’s more, Evans had prepared specifically for this stage – and he wasn’t going to let Vinokourov run away with the glory over a moot question of conduct. Nibali and Basso had had their chance to return to the fold, and they had been unable to ride back into contention.
Or, as Evans puts it: “Basso wasn’t the best descender in the peloton, so we were never going to wait for him on a downhill. He was the real dangerman. We were not going to wait for him anymore because it’s not like he waits for us on the climbs, is it? So we just raced to the end.”
Joining forces with the former Italian champion Pozzato, Evans bridged over to the Vino group – much to the delight of Dave and Sean in the commentary box. “It’s Evans! Evans is catching the front runners. What a ride!” said Harmon.
“Now, Evans, if you remember, is a former mountain biker, a former World Cup winner, so he knows a thing or two about slippery surfaces,” Kelly chipped in.
For a hardman of the Classics like Kelly, what the riders were experiencing was no harder than, say, a typical edition of Paris-Roubaix. But the slick surface of the strade bianche was clearly causing difficulty for those not used to tackling this kind of terrain in a Grand Tour scenario. The riders came off the first gravel section with just over 21km remaining, and were rewarded with an uphill grind on smooth asphalt – the Giro organisers’ definition of a back-handed compliment, like a false flat beyond a mountain summit. By now, a group of 28 – including the 2004 champion Damiano Cunego – had formed on the front, with Nibali, surrounded by most of his teammates, chasing still a minute-and-a-half behind.
“I don’t think we had much of a discussion beyond trying to work together, and get to the finish,” Evans says regarding the dynamic on the front of the race. “Vino was riding for GC, Cunego was initially riding for GC, but then for the stage.
“Then of course I was more for GC than anything, but I’d done a good reconnaissance of the final, so I was always thinking of the stage as well in the back of my mind. I think a lot of people in our sport underestimate how hard it is to ride for GC and to ride for stages sometimes.”

Alexandre Vinokourov and Cadel Evans in the break during stage 7 of the 2010 Giro d'Italia

Image credit: Getty Images

Mastering the mud

By the time the second dirt section started with a technical downhill stretch, with 16km to go, it was becoming increasingly difficult to identify the riders beneath the mud. Vino, his face pink and his hands constantly wiping away tears, drove the pace. But Evans appeared the most comfortable slipping and sliding on roads that were a throwback to a different century, the Australian able to match the Astana rider’s every attack.
“I couldn’t see anything!” Vino recalls. “Perhaps one or two metres, maximum. I practically did that descent blind-folded, it was that bad – and I didn’t know the course at all. The strade bianche is already complicated when it’s dry, but in the wet it’s another challenge. I had to keep rubbing my eyes, but it wasn’t easy. Sunglasses didn’t help, so it was even harder.”
Twice a winner of the cross-country event in the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in the late 90s, Evans had made the switch over to road cycling along with the likes of Italy’s Dario Cioni and the Dane Michael Rasmussen.
“We were the first ones to do it, and to many we weren’t seen as real cyclists,” says Evans. “But today, guys like Mathieu van der Poel, Peter Sagan and Wout van Aert have made a similar journey [from mountain bikes or cyclo-cross]. The whole perspective has turned 180 degrees. As a mountain biker, I’d say that people are finally starting to come to their senses. And I have to say that I was in my element that day in 2010 in the Giro.”
Looking back, Evans admits that he’d raced in far worse conditions during his career – citing stages in Paris-Nice, the Tour of Romandie, and also in the Giro on the Gavia pass: “On stages like that,” he says, “you feel like death warmed up.” He’d also raced in similar conditions on his mountain bike – albeit over a couple of hours. Stage 7 of that year’s Giro, however, stretched out over five sodden hours.

Alexandre Vinokourov rubs his eyes during stage 7 of the 2010 Giro d'Italia

Image credit: Getty Images

“In terms of the mud, I’ve never raced in anything quite so bad,” Evans continues. “It was so muddy, I finished with my gilet vest on, and the mud blocked the zip, so I couldn’t take it off. The zip was actually half open because it was stuck.”
Still, Evans had a few tricks up his muddy sleeves. “I saw others having trouble braking and changing gears and things,” he says. So Evans rinsed his front derailleur with his water bottle and rode “big-big” to give his chain more contact with the teeth in the mud.
“There are a few little tricks like this – you also ride ‘big-big’ on the downhills to get the right tension so the chain doesn’t fall off. For me it was just natural. I saw other guys struggling a bit. But that’s what racing’s about – the best rider wins; it’s sometimes the strongest, sometimes the smartest, or usually a combination thereof. And a bit of luck, as well.”
Not that Evans had won just yet. Although his face was a picture of pain, Vinokourov looked like a big threat for the win, while Cunego was lurking with intent. After the stage, Vino would describe the final 45km as “worse than Paris-Roubaix”. But the way he was riding prompted Kelly to suggest that the man who had only once ridden the Hell of the North (a DNF in 1998), “might be looking at Roubaix after this performance”.
“So might Evans, by the look of it,” came Harmon’s reply.
By now, Vinokourov’s baby blue Astana kit was almost entirely brown. And, as Frenchman John Gadret found himself in the lead group, Harmon couldn’t resist the obvious crack about his Ag2R-La Mondiale bib shorts: “John Gadret, in the middle of your shot. Well, at least his shorts match everything else.”

Italy's Dario Cioni (Team Sky) leads a group through the mud during stage 7 of the 2010 Giro d'Italia

Image credit: Getty Images

Carnage on the final climb

A mechanical for Vinokourov had seen the Kazakh drop back to change bikes, with just 20km remaining ahead of the multi-tiered final climb. This development went to the head of Cunego, who put in an attack while Evans drove the chasers. Now around 1’40” behind, Nibali was clearly not happy, dropping back to get a feed from the team car knowing that he had now lost his battle to retain the Maglia Rosa.
Vinokourov was paced back to the fold, and his dogged determination had clearly impressed Harmon: “I’ve been a vocal critic of Alexandre Vinokourov over the last week or so, having so much liked him as a rider one time. But I have to say: credit where credit’s due – he did exactly the right thing in sitting up and waiting when Nibali hit the deck… It was a very fine balancing act…
With less than 15km to go, Harmon continued:
“His natural physical attributes coming to the fore now. Alexandre Vinokourov, he is a tough SOB, he certainly is. And just showing how tough he is as well is Cadel Evans… Well, that would be something wouldn’t it? If the world champion could come to the top of this final climb of the day, the Poggio Civitella, ahead of everybody else.”
As the two riders traded pulls, Harmon had his eye on a little souvenir of his own: “Wow. Somebody please go and get me Evans’ jersey at the end of this. I want that, mud-spattered, in my collection.”
It was now down to seven on the front: Evans, Vinokourov, Gadret, the Italians Cunego, Garzelli and Marco Pinotti, and the Spaniard David Arroyo.
“All these guys need is spare tyres slung round their shoulders, maybe a water bottle on the front of their handlebars,” said a wistful Harmon. “That’s the world champion’s bicycle, the BMC of Cadel Evans, the former World Cup winner at Cannondale as a mountain biker, leading from the front as a world champion, just as he should be. Fantastic riding.”

Alexandre Vinokourov and Cadel Evans in the break during stage 7 of the 2010 Giro d'Italia

Image credit: Getty Images

Entering the final part of the gravel, with 9km to go, Vino and Evans rode clear, the pair trading blows in a mud wrestle on wheels. Arroyo led the chase, with the remaining four just off the pace.
Behind, Nibali’s frustration continued – the domestique in pink regularly dropping his team leader, Basso, and being forced to ease up to enable his compatriot to close the gap. “Must be very frustrating for Nibali, Sean, thinking that: ‘I’m stronger than Basso, and I’m waiting for him,’” Harmon said. “It’s just not happening.”
Coming off the strade bianche, the leaders – now five-strong and with Garzelli and Gadret closing in – still had to complete the 16 per cent grind to the summit. They might have been back on a smooth asphalt road, but the pain and effort was still etched across their faces. It was Vino who led them over the top with 4km remaining, Nibali and Basso now almost two minutes back. Kelly baulked at Harmon’s question over whether Vinokourov would be happy to concede the stage victory and concentrate on securing the Pink Jersey.
“No, certainly not. His contribution has been too big,” Kelly insisted. “He’s been the one pushing on, with Evans. He’s not going to let Arroyo just ride away. There is also the bonification here, which he’ll be thinking of. And a stage victory like this is one of the Monuments of this Tour of Italy – people will be talking about it for a long time. Everyone wants it.”
Vinokourov confirms that this was indeed the case: “I wasn’t thinking about the jersey – I wanted to win what was a beautiful stage to Montalcino. On the last climb, I was the strongest. But each time, Evans returned to my wheel. There were some good guys behind like Garzelli and Cunego. To win, I probably had to go clear on my own rather than rely on the sprint. The jersey just happened – there was very little information coming through and I didn’t know how far the others were behind.”

Vincenzo Nibali and Ivan Basso trail Filippo Pozzato in stage 7 of the 2010 Giro d'Italia

Image credit: Getty Images

Evans outclasses his rivals in Montalcino

Kelly had read the situation perfectly. And it was indeed the 36-year-old Kazakh who attacked at the start of the descent, much to Harmon’s delight:
“He’s worried about Cunego. He’s worried about Evans as well. And Evans is not going to let him go – and neither is Damiano Cunego... They’re going to try and ride everyone else off the wheel. And they’ve done it! That is a huge ride – and can anybody come back to that group?”
Yes, they could: Arroyo and Pinotti managed to close the gap after Vino, with a grimace, peeled off the front after a large pull. Ahead of the flamme rouge, the riders entered Montalcino and started the rise to the town centre. After all the dirt and gravel, they now had to contend with slippery flagstones and cobbles in the old town. Overcooking a tight hairpin, Evans brushed the barriers as Cunego came through. Unperturbed, the world champion, dancing on the pedals in a big gear, muscled his way back onto the front with 800m to go, with Cunego in second, then Vinokourov, with Pinotti and Arroyo hanging on.
“Cunego had the right idea,” Evans recalls. “Vinokourov wanted to ride but saw that I was riding. I knew the last kilometres really well. I remember being very clear in my head as I was going in. My DS Fabio Baldato was on the radio and I had a feeling he was doubting me as well because I got on the front in the last kilometre and I stayed there – and this is typically not the thing to do if you want to win the sprint.
“But I knew the last corner, so in my mind I was like: ‘If either of these two guys can follow me through the corner, they deserve to win.’ And so I just went through the last corner and neither of them could follow me, so I could just roll to the finish line. Well, not roll – it was briefly uphill – but I had a good gap coming out of the corner, so I could sort of cruise up to the finish line. So, after what was one of the toughest stages in a Grand Tour, the last 100m, the win was actually quite easy.”

Cadel Evans wins stage 7 of the 2010 Giro d'Italia in Montalcino

Image credit: Getty Images

It was a victory that clearly went down well in the Eurosport commentary box. “Cadel Evans is going to ride away from the rest of the field!” Harmon exclaimed. “And that is a brilliant victory! Cadel Evans, the world champion – he led all the way through from the front. And he takes it – mud-splattered though he is, he points to his jersey. He’s the number one!
“And what a victory for the Australian – he did all the work with Alexandre Vinokourov. He forced them to come back again and again and again – and it was just brute strength in the end that took him up to the finish line. A slight uphill finish, and he rode away on sheer power, the head going down for Cunego and Vinokourov in just sheer exhaustion at the end.”
Harmon was not finished there. Far from reserving his adulation for the stage winner, he extended his praise for everyone crossing the line, as they came home in dribs and drabs – but mainly in drips.
“What a ride by all these riders today. Chapeau for everybody. If I could climb out of the commentary box and stand on that finish line and cheer and clap them as they came home, one by one, I would. What a finish. Sean, what a day’s racing.”
“Yes, what a day, and what a change in the classement,” Kelly replied. “We were expecting some changes, but there are some major changes today... A lot of the big favourites really losing big time, and Evans, what a ride he’s done today. He just had more power than everybody fighting to get to the line.”
Nibali dropped teammate Basso in the closing metres to limit his losses to exactly two minutes, with his teammate a further five seconds back. For Sastre, it was an even darker day, the Spanish veteran crawling home alongside Cervelo teammate Xavier Tondo more than five minutes in arrears, 50 seconds behind Bradley Wiggins, making his Grand Tour debut for Team Sky.
Third on the day, Vino moved back into the Maglia Rosa with a 1’12” lead over Evans on GC, with Nibali dropping to fifth and Basso to eighth after what must have been an hour of hell in the saddle.
“I knew Evans was strong,” Vino says. “That’s why I did my best to drop him and solo clear. But I couldn’t. He closed down each attack, even though he had to go deep. At the finish I tried, but I didn’t have enough. But the Pink Jersey made up for it – and we were able to enjoy a nice glass of Brunello di Montalcino after what was a great day for the team.”
The day, however, belonged to the gutsy Australian Evans, who Harmon claimed was proving to be one of the best world champions in years. “He’s carrying the jersey very well,” Kelly agreed. “What a change in Evans – the performances we’ve seen from him this year are quite a lot better than we’ve seen from him in a number of years.”

Alexandre Vinokourov puts on the pink jersey after stage 7 of the 2010 Giro d'Italia

Image credit: Getty Images

What happened next: illness, bad luck, glory

Evans’ and Vinokourov’s balloons were popped just four days later when the race was turned upside-down after an extraordinary stage to L’Aquila in the hilly Abruzzo region of central Italy. An enormous break of 40 riders saw all the big GC favourites caught out as Russia’s Evgeni Petrov won Stage 11 and Australian debutant Richie Porte rode into pink after coming home more than 12 minutes clear.
The Stage 7 winner in Montalcino at least had an excuse. “I got a fever a few days later ahead of the stage to L’Aquila, and I woke up in the middle of the night feeling terrible with a temperature of 39 degrees,” Evans recalls. “I was in a bad state. The team doctor told me to go home. But I was second on GC and Vinokourov had the lead. Now, I didn’t think Vinokourov was going to last. I was like: ‘I can win this Giro’. That was why the Giro in 2010 was really a what-could-have-been Giro for me.”
After a night spent in the toilet vomiting, Evans felt he would be dropped in the 22km neutral zone on the 262km stage. He was also worried about suffering the same messy ignominy as Tom Dumoulin ahead of the Stelvio in 2017.
“I had five pairs of spare shorts in the car, but what happened to Tom was, in my mind, the biggest concern,” he says, now able to laugh about his predicament. “I had the Rainbow Jersey and I would have been followed by the cameras.”
Trying to hide the fact that he was sick, Evans gritted his teeth and kept a low profile – but in doing so missed out when the huge split occurred. “I just wanted to get through it,” he says. “The fact that Vinokourov didn’t have a team and I didn’t have a team, all these strange situations led to the first 10 on GC dropping off behind, 12 minutes down on Richie Porte – it was a real bizarre stage.”
Despite his illness, when Evans approached the team bus after seven-plus hours in the saddle, he noticed that his bike computer showed that he’d ridden 297km so far that day. “So I said: ‘I might just go and do a roll down,’ because I’d never done 300km in one day in my life before. It was just one of those days. Looking back, I’m amazed I even finished it.”
Porte held the Maglia Rosa for three days before handing it over to David Arroyo after Nibali and Basso took back-to-back victories on Monte Grappa and Monte Zoncolan. That swung the momentum back in favour of Liquigas. Although he still had a deficit of 3’33” to close in the final week, Basso managed to take a second Giro ahead of Spain’s Arroyo and teammate Nibali who, later that summer, went on to victory in the Vuelta – the first major win of an illustrious career.
Evans battled to fifth place in that Giro, one ahead of Vino, his disappointment slightly offset by winning the Points Classification. His focus quickly shifted to the Tour de France, where he took the Yellow Jersey on Stage 8 at the ski resort of Morzine after a bittersweet day for BMC. Bittersweet because, despite securing the Maillot Jaune ahead of the first rest day, Evans had injured himself in a fall earlier in the stage, the same day that Lance Armstrong, in his second year out of retirement, conceded nearly 12 minutes after three calamitous spills of his own.
“That was another ‘what-if’ moment,” Evans says. “I remember it was the day after the cobbles and we started in the Jura. I stopped to go to the toilet and I was riding back to the peloton and crashed. I got up, didn’t think much of it. I kept going and went into yellow in Morzine. The next day was a rest day, and I went and got an X-ray where I found out I’d fractured my elbow. But of course, I had the Yellow Jersey in the Tour de France – so I wasn’t going to stop. It was the same thing as the Giro: ’39-degree temperature? You should go home.’ ‘Broken elbow, but the Yellow Jersey’ – I’m not going to stop, am I? So I continued. I lost time. It was a year of what-ifs. But the next year I had a little less bad luck and it went a bit better.”
That’s some understatement. Off the back of victories in Tirreno-Adriatico and the Tour of Romandie, Evans kept his cool to sweep past Andy Schleck in the Grenoble time trial on the penultimate day of the Tour to become the first Australian to win the world’s biggest bike race.

Cadel Evans kangaroo Tour de France 2011 Paris

Image credit: Reuters

True grit on the gravel

Eleven years on, Evans can still savour that victory in Montalcino with huge satisfaction, earmarking it as a key stepping-stone on his long journey from mountain biker to Tour de France winner. It also justified, in his eyes, a move that many viewed sceptically at the time.
“It was not just my victory but BMC’s,” he says while out walking near his home in Switzerland. “The sport was at an evolutionary crossroads. That win was, in my mind, in my career at least, a point where things were starting to change. Crossing the finish line caked in mud with this new little team, BMC, which everyone in the press told me was career suicide, that I was just going there for the money. Here we are, a Continental team winning that stage in the Rainbow Jersey – on so many different levels it meant so much to us.”
Funnily enough, a lot of BMC’s top-tier riders – such as George Hincapie and Steve Morabito – were riding in the Tour of California at the time, the American race deemed a more important event for the team sponsors. But Stage 7 of the Giro was being played on a big screen at the race hotel that morning, with the entire peloton engrossed.
“I got a lot of respect from other riders and my teammates after that win,” Evans says. “Certainly, from Fabio Baldato, my DS, who had a better idea of the kind of rider I was. And I think anyone who rode that stage changed their opinion of me a little. I mean, if you finished 10 minutes down, you wonder how the hell anyone could be that far in front. I suppose my competitors on the day had a different perspective of me as a rider ever since.”
While reminiscing about the win with Eurosport, Evans decides that it’s perhaps time for him to break a habit.
“That win really stands out as one of my favourite victories because it really encapsulated everything about me as a rider – my career, my mountain bike background, the preparation of equipment down to the Paris-Roubaix wheels I used. It really encapsulated my team, how I was as a rider, and everything. I don’t have any photos of me as a rider at home, but one day I might get that photo of the finish line, frame it and put it up on my son’s wall.”
Heavy rain transformed what could have been a difficult, but perhaps uneventful, stage into a day that has weaved its way into cycling mythology. But it was also a day – like that sodden stage over the cobbles won by Lars Boom during the 2014 Tour de France – that some believe does not belong in a Grand Tour.
“I don’t think there’s a place for dirt roads like this in a stage race like the Giro,” Vinokourov said back in 2010, despite swapping his soiled Astana jersey for a pristine pink one. “In a one-day race yes, but not in a stage race.”
Evans disagrees – although he would, wouldn’t he? “I speak with the spectator interest and my own interest here,” he admits. “But as the TV numbers suggest, I, like many others, am a fan of those ‘extreme’ stages, so I think they are a great inclusion in Grand Tours.”
Looking back now, Vino is less scathing. “The conditions made it really difficult,” he says. “Sure, if it had been snowing or something then the organisers could have shortened the stage. But it was just rain. And that was a good thing – it was a great spectacle for the fans. Personally, I have good memories. I suffered, but it was all worth it in the end with the Pink Jersey. My only regret is that I couldn’t win the stage.”

Cadel Evans on the podium after winning stage 7 of the 2010 Giro d'Italia

Image credit: Getty Images

The terrain and conditions that day in the 2010 Giro combined to treat fans to a stage for the ages, one which inescapably evoked a bygone era of cycling.
As David Harmon said while marvelling at the mud: “This is what it must have been like in the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France before the Second World War – and, in fact, even after it. This is what it used to be like, folks, when the weather turned bad – not what it’s like now. But it just goes to show – a bike rider is still a bike rider. They still give it 110 per cent, even in terrible conditions.”
It is a sentiment with which the man who won that epic stage wholeheartedly agrees.
“Whether it’s today, 50 years ago or 100 years ago, it’s still the rider that’s hungry, wants to win and is mentally tough who comes out on top – some of those things never change,” says Evans. “The technology and equipment – all these things change. But the basis of it all stays the same: it’s the one willing to tough it out and suffer the most who is still the one that’s going to win.”
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The Lost Year

This is the definitive story of the people who saved the 2020 cycling season. We speak to the people who delivered a race calendar like no other, bringing the UCI World Tour roaring back to life after an unprecedented mid-season halt due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In a year that has affected us all, cycling demonstrated that there is hope for professional sports and entertainment. You can stream this and more of the best cycling stories in the world exclusively on GCN+.
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