During Tuesday's rest day, Bora-Hansgrohe manager Ralph Denk had appeared to suggest that Emanuel Buchmann's prospects of finishing on the podium of his Giro d'Italia debut were dwindling, suggesting to Münchner Merkur that only a place in the top five was now "within the realm of what is possible."
Buchmann's opening experiences of Italy in the wonderful month of May had not been entirely encouraging, but his race has taken on a different guise after the assured display on the gravel roads to Montalcino on stage 11 that lifted him to 6th overall, 1:50 off the maglia rosa Egan Bernal (Ineos) and 38 seconds off a podium place.
"I tried to come relatively fresh into the Giro and in the first few days, I think I was a bit too fresh, maybe," Buchmann told Cyclingnews in Siena's Piazza del Campo on Thursday morning.
"In the time trial [in Turin], I was not good and it was the same on the tough climbs in the first week, but now I feel better. Yesterday was a really good day and I think the shape is there."
Buchmann had spent an entire month away from racing immediately before the Giro and he had competed sparingly in the opening months of the season, lining out in just two stage races, the UAE Tour and the Tour of the Basque Country. He did, however, manage to shoehorn a Strade Bianche debut into his schedule, and although he was a distant 40th that afternoon in early March, the experience stood to him when he returned to the rippling hills of Tuscan wine country two months later.
Initially helped by Peter Sagan, Buchmann coped ably with the four sectors of gravel that accounted for 35 of Wednesday's final 70 kilometres. At the end of a breathless two hours of racing, the German felt emboldened enough to accelerate on the final climb of the Passo del Lume Spento.
With his diesel qualities, Buchmann perhaps reasoned that it was best to anticipate the sharper accelerations of men like Bernal. The maglia rosa duly forged across over the top of the Lume Spento and they combined on the drop to Montalcino, gaining on all of their podium rivals.
"Yesterday, I just felt good all day," Buchmann said. "In the end, I saw everybody was on the limit, so I decided I would try to attack. After I attacked, I saw Bernal was coming and from the top of the mountain we got together until the finish. It was the perfect situation for me."
The general classification picture, certainly, is suddenly more amenable for Buchmann, who rose nine places in one fell swoop in Tuscany, leaping ahead of men who had so impressed in the opening half of the Giro, like Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo).
Buchmann's gifts of endurance carried him to 4th place overall at the 2019 Tour de France and he will hope those characteristics stand him in good stead as the Giro inches towards its traditional grand finale in the high mountains, even if the road ahead is unfamiliar.
"I haven't done the climbs, we didn't do a recon, but I think the third week will be really hard. This week is already hard too, there are a lot of tough stages and the GC can change a lot in one day, like you saw yesterday," said Buchmann.
In Bagno di Romagna on Thursday, Buchmann finished safely in the peloton at the end of a wearying day that brought the race back across the Apennines. A late rally from Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo) aside, there were no frissons among the general classification contenders, but the most tumultuous days are still to come, beginning with the Zoncolan on Saturday.
"I think everything is still possible," Buchmann said. "Before the Giro, the podium was the goal. And I think it's still possible. It's not so far away. Also, the other riders don't look so much stronger than me and now the stages coming up suit me better. We will see."
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