With three days of the 2019 Giro d'Italia remaining, Team Ineos's leader at the race, 21-year-old Pavel Sivakov, still sits in an impressive ninth place on the general classification, which is a position that his more experienced teammate Christian Knees says the team will do all they can to protect.
Knees has provided a level, experienced head for the entirety of the Giro, easily the eldest member of the eight-man squad at 38 years old, versus the next eldest rider – 29-year-old Salvatore Puccio – with Sivakov the youngest team member at the race.
Even if they hadn't lost the rider who Team Ineos had planned to have lead the team – 22-year-old Egan Bernal – to a training crash just a week before the Giro start in Bologna, Knees, as a veteran of 19 Grand Tours already, would have adopted the same 'road captain' role.
The replacement for Bernal was 22-year-old Irishman Eddie Dunbar, in his first Grand Tour, which left Team Ineos with an inexperienced squad to contest the Giro, with team manager Dave Brailsford handing the baton to Sivakov and Tao Geoghegan Hart to have a free role and "try crazy things" to see what they could do on the GC, while at the same time learning from Knees and the team staff about life on a three-week race.
While Geoghegan Hart's challenge was over following a crash on stage 13, which left the British youngster with a broken collarbone, Sivakov stepped up at the same time, reprising his role that saw him win the Tour of the Alps ahead of teammate Geoghegan Hart and Bahrain-Merida's Vincenzo Nibali in April.
While Nibali has very much got the measure of him this time, with the Italian in a potentially Giro-winning position, in second place overall with three stages remaining, Sivakov has nevertheless stepped up to the plate, sitting 8:21 behind current race leader Richard Carapaz (Movistar Team), and 2:04 behind Astana's Miguel Angel Lopez, in second place for the white jersey competition, which Sivakov held earlier in the race.
"First of all, I have to say the young guys have done a great job so far," Knees said via the Team Ineos website. "Pavel is going really well, and considering he didn't finish his first Grand Tour last year, before the race I'm sure he would have taken where he is right now. It's a really good situation."
Sivakov only went two weeks into his only other Grand Tour – the Vuelta a España – last year before being forced to retire on stage 14 due to injuries sustained in an earlier crash.
Now, having taken a step into the unknown that is a third week, Sivakov is in a position to possibly finish a first Grand Tour inside the top 10.
"We want to defend his place, and if he comes out with a top-10 finish, that would be great," Knees continued. "There are still two hard stages to come where a lot can happen, but he's looking strong and the team is looking good. We're definitely up for defending it."
Approaching 40, Knees has relished the leadership bestowed on him, happy with how the team's younger riders have handled themselves.
"It doesn't really matter if I work for Froomey [Chris Froome] or now for Pavel – experience always helps," said the German. "Of course, a guy like Froomey has experience himself, but even then I can play a key part in the performance.
"Here [at the Giro], it was more about bringing my experience into the race and helping to teach the young guys a little bit around what to do, when to do it, and be a little bit of a mentor. It's worked quite well. But I don't feel like a grandad," said Knees.
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