Three weeks ago, at Movistar's pre-Giro d'Italia press conference at the Eataly World food park in Bologna, Richard Carapaz sat largely ignored as Mikel Landa drew the undivided attention of the assembled reporters. Carapaz had placed fourth overall a year ago, winning a stage at Montevergine in the process but his contribution to proceedings was limited to a token question towards the end.
When Carapaz powered to victory on stage 4 in Frascati, his triumph was overshadowed by the ill fortune that beset Tom Dumoulin, a crash victim in the finale. The time he gained at Ceresole Reale on stage 13, meanwhile, was lost amid the crossfire of the polemica between Vincenzo Nibali and Primoz Roglic. Even when Carapaz soloed to stage victory at Courmayeur and moved into the pink jersey the following day, he still struggled to generate column inches in a news cycle dominated by Nibali and Roglic's awkward fist bumps.
For two weeks of this Giro, the eventual winner was hiding in plain sight, but Carapaz slowly – and deservedly – came into focus during the final week, where he proved utterly immovable in the face of Nibali's offensives on the road to Como and again on the Mortirolo.
After safely defending his lead of 1:54 over Nibali on Saturday's final mountain stage to Monte Avena, Carapaz began Sunday's time trial in Verona as champion-elect, though he refused to accept that the job had been completed until he had passed the finish line safely in the Arena. He sprinted home in 36th place, 1:11 down on stage winner Chad Haga (Sunweb) to seal overall victory.
"Now I am the winner of the Giro," Carapaz smiled when he took a seat in the press centre on Piazza Bra. "I never wanted to say anything that might jinx the win. I knew that anything could happen and until I passed over the final cobblestone here in Verona, I knew that the race wasn't won. It's something incredible to say now, that I am the winner of a Grand Tour, the Giro d'Italia."
Carapaz was finally centre stage on the concluding leg of the Giro, which was broadcast on terrestrial television in his native Ecuador following the intercession of president Lenin Moreno. On crossing the finish line in Verona, riders freewheeled into the centre of the ancient Roman amphitheatre to receive the acclaim of the crowds that had assembled since late morning, and there was a tumultuous cheer to herald Carapaz's arrival.
A striking number of Ecuadorian flags dotted the Arena, while it seemed a sizeable section of Ecuador's expat community in Italy had made the trek from all over the peninsula to be in central Verona on Sunday afternoon. Carapaz's Giro victory is among the most significant in the country's sporting history, alongside Andres Gomez's French Open win of 1990, race walker Jefferson Perez's Olympic gold in 1996 or Liga de Quito's Copa Libertadores triumph of 2008.
"It was incredible in the Arena. The entrance here was so moving. To share the podium with riders like Roglic and Nibali, who have much more important palmares than I do, well, it makes the victory even mean that much more," said Carapaz.
As Carapaz and Nibali had sat waiting by the start house to begin their time trial efforts, the Italian had reached across and offered a fist bump of encouragement to the maglia rosa. Nibali already knew that he would not be able to recoup his deficit on Carapaz and so it proved.
"I really admire Nibali, he was someone that I really watched when I was a kid," Carapaz said. "The way he races, and now to be so close to him and share the podium, wow, it's amazing. It's something truly special."
In the final reckoning, Nibali was 1:05 behind Carapaz, with Primoz Roglic 2:30 down in third. Carapaz's teammate Mikel Landa dropped off the podium at the last, missing out on the third step by eight scant seconds.
Carapaz's contract with Movistar expires at the end of this season, but he carefully side-stepped an inquiry about his plans for 2020. It remains to be seen if he will remain put with Eusebio Unzue's squad or move to pastures new, with Team Ineos reportedly among his suitors. "We have to consider the future," he said gnomically.
There will be time enough for that. As shadows lengthened over Verona on Sunday evening, the 26-year-old was still acclimatising to the unusual position of being in the spotlight. "21 days ago, no one counted on me as a favourite. No one believed I could do it," Carapaz said. "To be here dressed in the pink jersey and to have my name on the trophy is just something amazing."