Cadel Evans has been confirmed the first-choice leader of his BMC squad in the upcoming Tour de France.
The American squad's team president Jim Ochowicz has quashed speculation that its young rising star Tejay van Garderen could challenge for the position.
Ochowicz was speaking at the start of Wednesday's 214-kilometre 17th stage of the Giro d'Italia from Caravaggio to Vicenza, won by Italian Giovanni Visconti (Movistar). He said Evans would have rock-solid leadership for the Tour on BMC, with whom he won the 2011 Tour and has led in this year's 3405 kilometre Giro.
Before Thursday's 18th stage, a 20.6-kilometre mountain time-trial from Mori to Olsa that should set up a superb battle in the Alps on Friday and Saturday, Evans was still second overall at 1 minute 26 seconds to Italian Vincenzo Nibali (Astana).
In third place overall was Colombian Rigoberto Uran (Sky) at 2 minutes 46 seconds.
In a season marred by virus, Evans placed a disappointing seventh in last year's Tour, while van Garderen finished fifth. Many have spoken of the possibility that Evans may not go into this year's 100th edition starting on June 29 as BMC's top dog.
Such thinking gained weight as Evans, while having recovered from his virus, failed to produce the sort of results that his third in the season-opening Tour of Oman in February forecast. He only made the decision to enter the Giro six weeks before the race to find his top Tour form.
Yet Evans, 36, has raced above expectations in the Giro. But the win by van Garderen, 24, in the eight-day Tour of California that finished on Sunday kept the leadership issue on the table among observers. But Ochowicz, who arrived at the Giro on Tuesday from California has now put a lid on the issue.
Asked if Evans would still be BMC's outright leader for the Tour, Ochowicz told Fairfax Media: "Sure ... that's clear." He added that Evans' performance in the Giro had cemented that leadership: "It solidifies that. You have to have the confidence and he does.This is a great performance here [by Evans].
"Tejay is a great young athlete coming up. He is learning from Cadel. He and Cadel and are a pretty formative package.
"When you put the rest of our group for the Tour [with them], I'm pretty happy with how we can cover all the bases."
Ochowicz said he had still been impressed with how well Evans has raced in the Giro, considering the reason he entered was to use it as preparation for the Tour. Evans has reiterated that the Tour is his priority, and that he simply planned to do as well as he could in the Giro.
Ochowicz said the decision for Evans to take on the Giro-Tour double was influenced by his performances in the tours in 2010, when his results in both were impacted by illness and injury.
In the 2010 Giro, Evans finished fifth overall and won a stage and the red points jersey despite falling ill with a virus.
Then in the 2010 Tour, he took the yellow leader's jersey on stage eight, despite crashing and fracturing his elbow that same day. His overall winning hopes were dashed when his injury and pain that came with it impeded his ability to follow the leaders on stage nine, but he still finished the Tour.
Ochowicz said his 2010 double still showed promise: "With his experience and physiology and mental consciousness, he can manage two grand tours."
But when asked if he was surprised how strong Evans had been in Italy, Ochowicz said: "Yeah ... We came in here really thinking about the Tour de France and still are. Still, being in this position in the Giro is a blessing – for us and for Cadel it confirms he is ready for the Tour. But we are more focused on this [Giro] right now and we will be going through Tour activities next week, but right now we are going to enjoy these next five days."
Watch stage 18 – 20.6-kilometre individual time trial from Mori to Polsa – live on Eurosport, Channel 511 Foxtel, from 10.30pm on Thursday.
Watch stage 19 – 139 kilometres from Ponte di Legno to Val Martello – live on Eurosport, Channel 511 Foxtel, from 8.30pm on Friday.
Rupert Guinness is covering the Giro d'Italia as a guest of Eurosport.