Katusha's sports director Valerio Piva says he is "cautiously optimistic" about Joaquim Rodriguez's Giro d'Italia chances after the Russian squad's unexpectedly strong showing in Wednesday's stage 4 team time trial.
Rodríguez is now 10th overall, and with the notable exception of Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda), who is in the fifth spot the Spaniard the best-placed of all the favourites - given these were the four stages Rodriguez said pre-Herning that he feared the most, that's some achievement.
Rodríguez already shone brighter than expected in the opening short time trial in Denmark, where he finished in the top 50 despite his reputation as a poor performer against the clock. But now Katusha's second place in Verona has been another big piece of the jigsaw to fall in place the right way for the Russian squad.
"We did a splendid team time trial, although knowing we had some good rouleurs in our team like [Mikhail] Ignatyev and [Alexandre] Kuschynski, and a new, very aerodynamic time trial bike, I wasn't as pessimistic as some people in our team beforehand. I was expecting fifth or sixth at best," said sports director Valerio Piva to Cyclingnews.
"But we had some weaker links in the time trial chain, too, so we could never have anticipated coming as close as five seconds to a team like Garmin-Barracuda."
"Ok, the mountains are still a long way away, but we've come through the first leg of the race very well."
Piva pointed out that in most previous Grand Tour performances, Rodríguez has been obliged to go on the offensive, whereas this time round, he can defend his higher position.
"All the stages are important, even today [stage 5's flat run to Fano], because you win a Giro little by little but you can lose it all in a moment. All it takes is a crash or being in the wrong place at the wrong time."
From Friday onwards, the Giro uses roads that frequently form part of Tirreno-Adriatico, a race where Rodríguez has always thrived. Indeed, on Friday the race goes over the Montelupone climb, 56 kilometres from the finish, where the Katusha leader won in 2009 and 2008. He also took a stage of Tirreno this year.
"We know the area well. It's all narrow roads, technical descents, short, punchy climbs. On paper it suits Purito down to the ground, but they aren't stages that are easy to control. Tomorrow, we have a four kilometre off-road section [of strade bianche] of climbing [on the Passo della Cappella, 92 kilomtetrs from the finish.] Again, you have to pay attention. But better to be ahead at this point in the game than behind."