"Until some time ago, nobody knew who I was, and now you all are here around me!"
Cadel Evans sounds quite surprised by his sudden celebrity, but never stops smiling. He really seems to like his new status: He's gone from a simple domestique for Stefano Garzelli, (and a very good one for sure) hardly known by not cycling-mad Italians; to the new pink jersey wearer, with serious chances to take the leaders all the way to the Milan podium.
Once ignored by most, Mapei's (former Saeco) Australian is in these days surrounded by a multitude of journalists trying to know everything about him. And he has even received phone calls and congratulations from Australia's Prime Minister John Howard and Mapei's boss Squinzi: "Hi Giorgio, how are you doing?" were Mr. Evans's informal words.
This coverage is welcomed and deserved, as well. After Garzelli's exit from the race, Evans was not immediately appointed Mapei's leader on the road, but gained this status thanks to his performances, such that even the other possible Mapei's "post-Garzelli" captain, Andrea Noè, had to work for him in the last days (which he did in a perfect way: Noé's legs and experience definitely were of help to the Aussie).
And on Wednesday the 25-year-old former mountainbike ace captured the pink jersey! Not bad for a man on his first participation in the Tour of Italy: "It's just like a dream that came true! I'm very very very happy," the Aussie said in Italian after the race "I came to my first Giro mainly in order to help Garzelli and gain experience. Even taking the pink jersey is one more useful experience."
Just like Dario Frigo, he had some troubles in the final part of both the Marmolada and Pordoi ascents, with cramps and leg pains, and after the race admitted that "It was a very hard and demanding stage, which took out many energies," Nonetheless, he sounded well intentioned to continue his positive "pink" experience until the end in Milan, trying to gain time everywhere he can, no matter if in ascents, descents or flat roads.
There is no doubt that it won't be easy at all. "Two difficult stages are coming, tomorrow's leg... but especially Saturday's ITT, which is more dangerous for me, after Hamilton took 40 seconds on me in Numana, and the next ITT is even longer." The CSC-Tiscali leader is not the only rider the Aussie fears: "Hamilton, but also Dario Frigo are my main rivals. We'll see in the future."
Still, he sounded quite optimistic as, the "Maglia rosa" gives a moral boost and even wings to its wearer and his teammates. Let's wait and see where he can fly to, the man has raced only two real TTs so far in his road career, and in Numana he even gained something (about 6 seconds) on Tyler Hamilton in the very final part of the stage.
Evans hopes to live his dream until the end. Should things go the wrong way, he wouldn't have to despair! According to many observers, from Mapei's manager Aldo Sassi to former teammate Paolo Savoldelli, the man has a huge talent, and we'd better take him into account in future stage races!