Jakob Fuglsang's current form places him among the top tier of contenders for overall victory at the Giro d'Italia, but his track record in three-week races serves as a weighty caveat. In fourteen Grand Tour appearances, the Dane has placed in the top 10 just once, when he took seventh overall at the 2013 Tour de France.
It is true, of course, that Fuglsang has regularly been pressed into the service of others during his career. In his lone previous Giro outing in 2016, for instance, he placed 12th overall while helping Vincenzo Nibali to overall victory.
Fuglsang has no longer been fettered by team duties in the years since, however, and his experience as team leader for Astana at the Tour has been ill starred. Crashes ended his race prematurely on two occasions, while he placed 12th in 2018.
This season, he opted to miss the Tour altogether, instead building his campaign around a tilt at the maglia rosa, a decision taken long before the coronavirus pandemic rearranged the cycling calendar.
"I hope this is the big opportunity," Fuglsang said in a video conference on the eve of the Grande Partenza. "I've tried at the Tour de France in recent years, but I've always had bad luck with crashes, so I never managed to get big results on GC, at least in the last few years. I hope this year is the year where it all goes well."
A professional on the road since the end of 2008, Fuglsang has happened upon the richest seam of form of his entire career in his mid-thirties, beginning with the first of two Critérium du Dauphiné triumphs in 2017.
Winner of Liège-Bastogne-Liège last season, he added another Monument at Il Lombardia in August, and Nibali is among those tipping the 35-year-old to be a contender deep into the Giro. Fuglsang dismissed the idea that such external expectation would prove a burden.
"I think we can have these big expectations because of my condition this year," Fulgsang said. "I hope I will not disappoint, but if I don't reach the goal, then the one who will be most disappointed will be myself. I don't think much about what people outside the team or the press are thinking.
"I hope this is going to be the Grand Tour that will live up to my expectations and that I can put the bad luck behind me. Like Richie Porte in the Tour: he was always unlucky and then this year, he managed to put something great together and finish on the podium."
Vlasov's debut and López's future
In August, Fuglsang raced in tandem with Aleksandr Vlasov at Il Lombardia and the Giro dell'Emilia, with the Russian helping him to victory in the former before the favour was returned four days later atop the San Luca. That double act is again in service at the Giro. Vlasov won the under-23 Giro two years ago, but this will be his Grand Tour debut. If the youngster is tipped as an outsider, it is, like Fuglsang, due to current condition rather than past performance.
"I don't know what to expect after two weeks, I don't know how my body will react," Vlasov said. "If I'm still good, I might try to win the white jersey. If Jakob is good, we'll all help him."
From Coppi and Bartali in 1940 onwards, Giro history is dotted with young debutants who superseded their leaders over the three weeks, but Fuglsang insisted that there would be no problems of cohabitation with Vlasov.
"We are teammates. I think you have followed the season so far you will have seen we have been racing very well together. Vlasov helped me in Lombardia, I helped him in Emilia," Fuglsang said. "In Tirreno, we were both maybe not 100 percent, and he still won the white jersey. I don't think there's a problem."
Astana's Giro line-up underwent late changes when Yuriy Natarov and Vadim Pronskiy were withdrawn after they came into contact with teammate Zhandos Bizhigitov, who tested positive for COVID-19.
Rodrigo Contreras and Jonas Gregaard Wilsly, who impressed in Fuglsang's service at the Imola Worlds last weekend, have been drafted in as replacements.
"It's more a question of being careful than anything, I think that's how it is at the moment," said Fuglsang, who expressed confidence that the Giro will complete the full route despite the coronavirus pandemic and the risk of adverse weather in the high mountains in late October.
"I hope my condition grows during the race instead of being 100 percent now, because I came here thinking we'd do the whole thing as planned. We'll see with the weather, the high mountains and the coronavirus.
"Anything could happen. But looking at the coronavirus numbers in Italy compared to France, for example, I think we can do the full three weeks."
Fuglsang and Vlasov were joined in Friday afternoon's video conference by Miguel Ángel López, who had the Giro added to his programme after he dropped from third to sixth overall on the final weekend of the Tour de France.
The Colombian shrugged off the suggestion that he had been sent to the Giro against his will, and he noted that his reported departure from Astana at the end of this season is not a foregone conclusion.
"It wasn't the plan to do the Giro, but my condition was good after the Tour, so the team decided to bring me here to give a hand to the two guys," López said. "I don't know if I'm leaving the team or not, nothing is decided yet."
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