For most riders at the Giro d'Italia, their media obligations end as soon as the door slams shut and their team bus pulls away from the finish town. For Andrey Amador (Movistar), however, his press duties are only beginning.
Over the past two weeks, as he has climbed to a wholly unexpected fourth place on the general classification, Amador has regularly had his evening meal and massage interrupted by telephone calls from journalists in his native Costa Rica.
"There's an eight-hour time difference but the journalists from back home call me a lot in the evenings to talk to me about the race," Amador told Cyclingnews. "It's not always easy because it's after the stage and I'm having dinner or massage or something, but I try to keep in contact with them as best I can."
Amador's performance in the Valdobbiadene time trial at the weekend, which temporarily lifted him into the top three, was front page news in the Central American country, where his exploits are also being broadcast on television. "The first sport in Costa Rica is football, obviously, but cycling is becoming more popular now, and I'm realising that a lot people are following the Giro," he said.
Just three days shy of the finish in Milan, Amador remains in fourth place on general classification, 5:48 behind the maglia rosa of Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), but less than a minute off the podium. On the Giro's toughest mountain stages to date, the 28-year-old has summoned forth displays of the kind only fleetingly seen before during his six seasons in the professional ranks. He placed 6th at Madonna di Campiglio and then 5th at Aprica, catching and passing Fabio Aru (Astana) on the way up the Mortirolo.
"Yes, it's a bit of a surprise. I knew I was in good shape before this Giro, but I didn't expect to be in fourth place overall at this point, to be in with a shout of the podium," Amador admitted.
In keeping with an increasingly prevalent trend in the contemporary peloton, Amador credits his transformation to a dramatic loss in weight. He certainly appears notably leaner than when he out-sprinted Jan Barta to stage victory atop Cervinia at the Giro three years ago.
"The biggest change this year has been to my weight," said Amador, whose best Grand Tour finish up to now was 29th in the 2012 Giro. “In the past, I was always a rider who carried five or six kilos more and I was looking at the classics and time trials. But I saw that as I lost weight, my climbing was getting better and better. I'm not a climber but I can climb at my own tempo and limit my losses. So I think that's the biggest change, my weight."
It's a thought echoed by Movistar manager Eusebio Unzue. "It's a big surprise for us too, but I think experience is the biggest factor: he's become more professional in his approach," Unzue told Cyclingnews in Melide on Thursday. "He's lost a lot of weight compared to previous years and he's seen how that can help him progress. Now he's getting over the big mountains too."
Although Amador conceded more ground to Contador on stage 18 to Verbania, he finished safely in the same group as his rivals for the podium places – Astana's Aru and Mikel Landa, and Yury Trofimov (Katusha). With two mountain stages still to come, the Movistar man is not just looking to defend what he holds now.
"At the start I wanted to be in the top 10, then it was the top 5 and now I'd like to be on the podium. My ambitions have been growing as I'm coming closer to the podium," he said.
Friday's finale to Cervinia, at least, is one that ought to suit Amador, who announced his arrival with that victory two years ago. The approach is different this time around, via the Col de Saint-Pantaleon, and Amador won't be able to infiltrate the early break, but he believes the long, shallow final climb is tailored to his strengths.
"That win in Cervinia is a beautiful memory and obviously it's a climb that I know very well," he said. "It's not a very tough climb in itself but it still goes up for a long time and I think it suits me very well."
Out of contract at the end of the year, Amador knows that there is a world of difference in financial terms between a place on the podium and the fourth spot, though he insisted that his preference would be to continue at Movistar, where he has spent his entire professional career. "I'd really like to stay in this team because it's like a family to me," he said.
For the final days of the Giro, meanwhile, a journalist has made the long trip from San José to cover Amador's bid for a podium place. One less phone call to field in the evening. A marginal gain.
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