PLAN DI MONTECAMPIONE: For Cadel Evans, the challenge of claiming his first overall victory in the Giro d'Italia this year may appear greater after another time loss to Colombian race leader Rigoberto Uran in Sunday's 15th stage in the Alps.
The 3449-kilometre Giro enters its toughest stages from Tuesday to Saturday, before finishing in Trieste on Sunday.
However, Uran, who still wears the pink leader's jersey, says the 37-year-old Evans is still very much a threat.
Uran (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) is wary of the 2011 Tour de France winner's experience from the 15 three-week grand tours he has raced, his best results being one win and two second places in the Tour, third place in last year's Giro and third place in the Vuelta a Espana.
"After [winning the stage 12] time trial, I said there are four or five riders on the Giro to win it," Uran said after Sunday's 15th stage, won by Italian Fabio Aru (Astana).
"Cadel, with his experience, he knows very well how to race three-week stage races.
"[He's been] world champion, a Tour winner. He knows a lot. He's ridden at the top."
After a third rest day on Monday, the Giro resumes on Tuesday with the 16th stage in the Alps from Ponte di Legno to Val Martello.
At 139km, the stage is short, but with the famed Gavia and Stelvio passes, and very little flat before a summit finish, it will be brutal.
In Sunday's 217km 15th stage from Vadengo to Plan di Montecampione, Uran's overall lead on second-placed Evans widened from 32 seconds to 1 minute, 3 seconds,
He leapfrogged Evans in the penultimate stage of last year's Giro in the mountains to take second place overall – leaving Evans to finish third – and believes the race is still up for grabs.
"The Giro is still open … the last week will be the hardest and [will] decide it," Uran said.
One problem he and Evans share is that a bottleneck of challengers is forming. On Sunday, the gap between second and fifth overall fell from 2min 1s to 1min 37s.
Poland's Rafa Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) remains in third place overall at 1min 50s.
Fourth overall is Sunday's stage winner, Aru, at 2min 24s, after starting the stage seventh at 3min 16s. Colombian Nairo Quintana (Movistar), third on the stage at 22s, is fifth overall at 2min 40s – up from sixth at 3min 4s.
But Evans, 10th on the stage at 1min 13s, feels far from defeated in a race where no rider has stood out above the rest.
"We still have big stages ahead, they are going to make a big difference," Evans said, referring to Tuesday's 16th stage, and then stages 18, 19 and 20 in the mountains from Thursday to Saturday, of which stage 19 on Friday is a 26.8km mountain time trial.
Asked if he had "grinta" (Italian for grit and fight), Evans said: "I have a lot of it.
"We are all stacked up near on the GC [general classification], we've raced two weeks, but it's all still open.
"I won't give up, that's for sure. I still have a long way ahead of me with some important stages – the time trial [on Friday] and [stage 20 finish to] Zoncolan."
Rupert Guinness is covering the Giro d'Italia as a guest of Eurosport, which is covering every stage live. Watch stage 16, Ponte di Legno to Val Martello – 139km, on Tuesday live from 10.30pm on Eurosport Ch 511 on Foxtel.
The story Cadel Evans ready for the fight as he falls behind in Giro d'Italia first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.