By Jean-François Quénet in Briançon
Back in pink after a dramatic finale in stage 12 of the Giro d'Italia, Danilo Di Luca is not hiding the fact that, apart from the always dangerous Gilberto Simoni, he also fears the young Team CSC rider Andy Schleck. The 21 year old Luxemburger has been impressive in the mountains, and continued to shine on the legendary passes of Agnello and Izoard as he did on his way up to the sanctuary of Nostra Signora della Guardia.
Coming third in the highest town of Europe, he fortified his white jersey of best young rider and moved into fourth place in the overall standings. "I'm happy with I did today," a smiling Schleck said in Briançon. "I didn't expect to go so well. As I saw Cunego getting dropped, I was feeling better and better. I even had the legs to go for the win but I missed some punch in the last kilometre. This is the third time in this Giro that I get beaten in a hilly finish. I'll try again, maybe by going away from further."
Schleck now has a 3'46 advantage on Riccardo Riccò who has been true to his role as domestique for Gilberto Simoni, leaving Schleck well on his way to claim the white jersey. However, he might fight for the pink as well if he keeps climbing so easily. He's only 1'25 behind Di Luca before the uphill time trial of Oropa, something the more seasoned Italian is well aware of.
"In this exercise, I'm convinced that I can gain time on the others," Di Luca said. "Except on Schleck who is a cronoman who also goes very well in the climbs." Liquigas' leader of the Giro still believes Simoni is his main – if not only – adversary. Diplomatically, he didn't exclude Cunego, although the "Little Prince" of 2004 didn't seem totally at his ease on the Alpine slopes.
"I'm particularly afraid of Schleck," Di Luca added. "We don't know him. Well, we know him but he's only 22 [he turns 22 in June - ed.], he might have a bad day when he could lose some time." For his part, Schleck was realistic and modest in his assessment of the situation. "Honestly I don't think I can target the pink jersey this year, Schleck said. "I'd be happy to keep the white jersey already."
Time will tell, but three years ago, a young Damiano Cunego didn't believe he would be the overall winner until he proved himself to be the strongest in the third week.