By Martin Hardie
While most watchers have their eyes fixed firmly on Savoldelli, Di Luca and Simoni as the favourites to fight out the final five days of the Giro, not many have cast there eyes one place further back and given a thought to the chances of Saunier Duval's Juan Manuel "Juanma" Garate. Garate just missed the podium back in 2002, when he finished fourth behind Savoldelli, Tyler Hamilton and Caucchioli. Since then hasn't really impressed as much as one would have hoped. This year however, having joined Matxin's magic yellow bus, he seems to have found a new lease of life.
Saunier's likeable and gregarious director, Joxean Matxin is not fussed by the lack of attention being given to Garate. Basque cycling's journalistic doyen Unai Larrea, noted in his round up on Tuesday's rest day that in the big guns of the daily printed cycling press, La Gazzetta dello Sport and L'Equipe, Garate didn't even rate a mention. But back home in the Basque Country, just as in 2002, Garate's efforts are firmly in the spotlight.
Asked if the lack of attention troubled him, Matxin was quick to respond. "Troubles me?, Not at all, it's better this way. There is less pressure on Juanma." Matxin has been confident since he signed Garate that the Guipuzkuano would do well in the Giro. He reminded Larrea that he had told him so earlier in the year. "I told you I had enormous confidence in what he could do in this Giro and I sincerely believe that we will see him on the podium in Milan." Matxin believes that Savoldelli is showing signs of weakness and could crack at any moment. Di Luca he says is "incredible" but he has "been at his peak for two months and this week he could crack."
With two mountain stages and a time trial to come, Matxin says, "when he is in form and confident there are not five riders in all the peloton who are better than Juanma and at the moment he is confident ... he is focused ... his preparation was focused on this last week." Matxin, who is no stranger to the Italian scene having cut his teeth as a junior director for Mapei, believes that Garate and Simoni need to come to an alliance in the coming stages to unseat Savoldelli and Di Luca in the two mountain top finishes. "Then they can play it out between themselves in the time trial. The truth is I think he can win this Giro. I see him going very well and when he is good he is dangerous."