At first glance, Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) could hardly have asked for a gentler introduction to life in the maglia rosa than the short and flat thirteenth stage of the Giro d’Italia, but the Colombian was quick to debunk that impression on arriving at the finish in Rivarolo Canavese.
Although the largely flat run north around the outskirts of Turin did not finish in the anticipated bunch sprint, Uran rolled home safely alongside his fellow overall contenders in the body of the main peloton. He noted afterwards, however, that a sudden hail shower had made road conditions treacherous inside the final 35 kilometres.
"It wasn’t a calm day. It was very stressful in the finale because it was raining and the road was dangerous," Uran said. "The only calm day is the rest day on Monday. We had to ride at the front today because we didn’t want to risk a crash. But the real climbs start tomorrow and I’m feeling good."
Holding the overall lead has the associated effect of lengthening Uran’s days. While Cadel Evans, Nairo Quintana et al were able to slip away quickly to their team buses at the finish, Uran followed the extended itinerary of the maglia rosa, which brought him through the podium ceremonies, television interviews, doping control and the post-stage press conference.
This is Uran’s first time in the leader’s jersey of a Grand Tour, but he gave short shrift to the suggestion that he might find it difficult to cope with the additional demands and pressures it brings, on and off the bike.
"I have nine years of experience as a professional with five different teams," Uran said. "I’ve ridden with a lot of champions and I’ve learned a lot from it all. That means a lot. I’ve done four Giri, two Tours, three Vueltas, so I think I’ve got a bit of experience."
Twelve months ago, Uran rode the Giro for another team, Sky, and started the race in the service of another rider, Bradley Wiggins, although he inherited the leadership following the Englishman’s abandon in Treviso and went on to finish the race in second place overall behind Vincenzo Nibali (Astana).
Asked to identify the difference between the Uran of 2014 to the Uran of last year, he broke into a broad smile. "Last year I was with Sky, this year I’m with Omega," Uran joked, adding: "My condition is good this year. I had good condition last year, too, but this time I’m a captain and I’ve got a team built around me. We’re at this Giro to win and we’re in a good position."
Uran holds a lead of 37 seconds over Cadel Evans (BMC), 1:52 over Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) and 3:29 on Nairo Quintana (Movistar) as the Giro approaches its weekend doubleheader in the Alps, with summit finishes at Oropa and Montecampione. The time gaps are imposing, as was Uran’s startling performance in the Barolo time trial on Thursday, but the 27-year-old was keen to dispel the notion that his position is impregnable.
"No, no, no. There’s still a long way to go and every day anything can happen," Uran insisted. "I got a good gap yesterday and that means I’m going well but Quintana, Pozzovivo and Majka are still there. It seems like a big gap but in the end, it’s nothing."
Saturday’s stage will recall Marco Pantani’s impresa at Oropa in 1999, when he passed 49 riders after stopping to realign his chain at the base of the final climb, but Uran downplayed the idea that the day will carry any additional significance for him. "For me, every stage means something. I have a lot of respect for the Giro," he said. "We’re doing quite a beautiful stage tomorrow and we’ll see how it goes."