Damiano Caruso (BMC) believes his second place finish at the Tour de Suisse could mark a turning point in his career, though the Italian reiterated that his sole duty in July will be to support Richie Porte in his bid to win the Tour de France.
With Porte deployed at the Critérium du Dauphiné, Caruso was handed the reins of team leadership for the Tour de Suisse, where he held the yellow jersey for two days and then placed third in Sunday's concluding time trial to secure second place, 48 seconds behind Simon Spilak (Katsha-Alpecin).
"I haven't been a winner up to now but I've often gone strongly. Now I've changed and I have a dream: to go to the Tour de France in the jersey of Italian national champion," Caruso told La Gazzetta dello Sport, indicating his determination to win the 'tricolore' national champion's jersey this weekend before traveling to Dusseldorf for the Grand Départ.
This year's Tour de France will be just the third of Caruso's career. The Sicilian spent part of May training at altitude with Porte, who confirmed his status as one of the principal favourites for Tour victory after winning the Tour de Romandie and placing second at the Dauphiné. With Tejay van Garderen and possibly Rohan Dennis both absent, Caruso will be Porte's key lieutenant in the high mountains.
"I'm setting off to be completely by his side, and then if the road presents an opportunity, I'll try to take it," Caruso said. "At the Vuelta, on the other hand, I'll go for the win. But it's early to talk about that. First there's the Tour, and that's already a lot."
A professional since 2009, Caruso has just one win to his name – a stage of the Settimana Coppi e Bartali in 2013 – but he placed 8th overall at the 2015 Giro and performed strongly at last year's Tour de France as part of Porte's guard.
"I'm not old. I'll be 30 in October," Caruso pointed out. "I think I have four or five years ahead of me at a high level. And they will be years in which, when I'm with the best riders, I'll grow a pair, because I've understood that I'm not lacking anything compared with them."
Although Caruso, like everyone else, had to yield to Spilak's remarkable strength on the summit finish at the Tiefenbach Glacier on Friday, he took heart from his performance in Sunday's time trial, where he was beaten only by his BMC teammates Rohan Dennis and Stefan Küng.
"That result is very important. I expected to go strongly but not to finish third in a time trial behind two specialists like Dennis and Küng," he said. "Until recently, I'd have spent the eve of this time trial in fear and anxiety, and it would have affected my performance in a major way. Not this time. I stayed calm on the bus, just listening to music with my teammates."
Dennis casts doubt on Tour de France start
Despite bookending his Tour de Suisse with victories in both time trials, Rohan Dennis has insisted that he is unlikely to be part of the BMC team at the Tour. After a crash forced him to abandon the Giro on stage 4, Dennis was pencilled in as a reserve for BMC's Tour squad, and he said that his status has not changed in the intervening period.
"I'm still a reserve. At this moment I'll be staying at home," Dennis told Velopro. "That was always the plan. I'd love to be there for Richie, he's a good friend and to try to help him win would be amazing. It would be a dream come true to ride down the Champs-Élysées with the yellow jersey on my team, but at this stage, I don't think I'm going. I'll be cheering him on from my couch with a cold drink."
If Dennis misses the Tour, he will instead ride the Vuelta with designs on a high overall finish before turning his attention to the World Championships in Bergen. Two years ago, Dennis won the opening day time trial in Utrecht to take the first maillot jaune of the Tour. He would be a favourite to repeat the feat in Dusseldorf in a little under two weeks, though he pointed out that his teammate Küng is also a contender.
"Küng's on the list in front of me, and he's put his hand up since December. He's a good possibility to actually win in Dusseldorf,” Dennis said. "If it's me or him, it doesn't matter, as long as we're wearing the BMC jersey."