By Anthony Tan
"I have also surprised myself," were some the first words Danilo Di Luca muttered at the rest day press conference in Lissone.
"Il Killer di Spoltore", as he is now nicknamed, has always had the killer instinct for the Classics, but the 29 year-old's performance over the last two weeks of the Giro d'Italia has been nothing short of sensational.
Even before the Giro has concluded, Di Luca has already shown another dimension to his abilities. But when asked about his transformation, he replied with somewhat muted confidence: "Don't forget I have already won the Baby Giro..."
However, this is certainly the first time the ProTour leader has proven himself in the pro ranks. His win at the Vuelta a Pais Vasco earlier last month pointed towards this progression; however, the step from a one to three-week event is significant - yet Di Luca has made the transformation with apparent ease.
"I am living in a new dimension; it is a beautiful period of my cycling life," he continued. "It points to the podium in Milano, even before I ride the obstacles in front of me... one of the biggest of all, the Colle delle Finestre."
Direttore sportivo Stefano Zanatta made the following observation: "We at Liquigas-Bianchi have tried to provide Di Luca with the all-round support to give him the confidence necessary to become a leader. He is responded with real 'fuoriclasse' [unequalled class]".
Certainly, if Di Luca keeps riding the way he has done, the podio in Milano is achievable. And don't forget, the maglia rosa is just 25 seconds away from him; if Savoldelli cracks, Di Luca simply needs to follow the wheels of Simoni and Garate, his two biggest threats on the classifica generale. But like he says, the the climb of the Colle della Finestre may pose the biggest threat of all, boasting an average gradient of 9.2 percent over eighteen and a half kilometres.
Whatever happens over these next five days, "Il Killer di Spoltore" can now be considered an 'uomo da fuoriclasse' - a rider with the potential to follow in the footsteps of Bartali, Coppi Moser and other Italian cycling greats.
Speaking about his ambitions for the rest of the season, he said: "I aim to finish the season with the maglia bianca [white ProTour leader's jersey]. After the Giro, I will give myself a rest period before I aim for the summer classics, offering precious points that could give me the [overall] classification in the UCI ProTour."
That is another thing Di Luca has done: he has made the UCI ProTour and its jersey special - all within the space of three months - something its World Cup predecessor took years to achieve.
"To whom do I dedicate this magical moment?" he asked himself towards the end.
"First and foremost to my wife: her support has been fundamental, especially in my more difficult moments."