He’s ridden superbly thus far but Michael Matthews believes that he will reach the limit of his abilities on Saturday’s first mountain stage of the Giro d’Italia and will almost certainly concede the Maglia Rosa to fellow Australian Cadel Evans.

Matthews finished a fine fourth on Friday’s seventh stage of the race, following on from his victory on Thursday. However while he has defended very well thus far, he is concerned about the tougher profile coming up.

Because of that, he tips Evans to be in pink after Saturday’s stage to Montecopiolo. “I think he’s going well enough to take the Maglia Rosa tomorrow,” he admitted. “It’s going to be a long Giro for the GC riders: there’s a lot of hard stages coming up.”

However he hasn’t given up all hope, and promises to fight on. “I haven’t really looked in detail at tomorrow’s stage, but we really knew this would be the last day, if we could keep [the Maglia Rosa] to this point,” he stated. “It’s going to be pretty sad to lose it tomorrow. I’ll definitely be trying my best to keep it. It’ll be unfortunate, but realistically there’s not much you can do about it.”

One hope he has is that perhaps the GC contenders – and, in particular, Evans – can bide their time and thus give him a chance to fight on in pink.

“If he [Evans] can wait a few days, it might be better. He has a really strong team who can put him in the right position before the climbs, and he has team-mates who can help him there, too.

“He’s a great guy and it would be good to see him on the podium, whether or not he wins the Maglia Rosa, at the end of these three weeks.”

Evans ended Friday’s stage in second place overall, just 21 seconds back, and sounded pleased with how things went. “It was a much less stressful day, but still fast in the finish,” the BMC Racing Team leader said. “The guys kept me up front at any points that quite possibly could have been dangerous. It was a much better day for everyone today on dry roads. Most people managed to stay safe, so we are quite happy to have a day like this.”

Asked what his main focus was, he said it was staying out of trouble. “To roll the legs and to start thinking about tomorrow and the day after. They are going to be the first really important days of the Giro.”

If things go to plan for him, they will also be stages where the strong showing he has made thus far will be followed by confirmation that he has the necessary high mountain climbing form to win the race overall.