Giro d'Italia: Betancur looks to key mountain stages after a strong early start

Not that he's complaining, but such was the strength of Carlos Betancur's performance in the opening time trial of the Giro d'Italia that the Colombian says it took even him by surprise.

The 28-year-old, who rides for Movistar, clinched a strong 11th place in the hilly time trial, placing him amongst the front-runners in the early overall classification, and raising the question: what could he be capable of achieving when the race hits the terrain he normally shines on - the mountains?

"I have to be very pleased, it all turned out much better than I expected," Betancur told Cyclingnews at the start of stage 2. At the end of the stage, he finished in the main pack, and held his 11th place in the overall classification. "It's very motivating for what's to come in this year's race.

"It's true that a course as hilly as that suited me a lot, but at the same time, you had to be good to be ahead."

Betancur was surprised, too, because he said he had done well in the training rides but that had not transferred over to the races.

"In the training rides I'd been going well, but in the races, the results weren't as good as I wanted. I certainly wasn't where I wanted to be in the Ardennes Classics, but then in Romandie, I was up there a bit more, and that motivated me." He ended up leaving that race early on stage 4.

At the last year's Tour de France he was 18th, but he has a mixed record in the Giro d'Italia. He was with fifth in the Giro back in 2013 his best placing of any Grand Tour. Since then, he was 20th in 2015, and then in 2016, his first with Movistar, he abandoned on stage 19 to Risoul.

When the Giro returns to Italy on Tuesday, Betancur is feeling even more optimistic than he would be after such a strong time trial. The reason, he says, is that the hot weather in Israel did not favour him at all. "Normally I suffer in that, so that was another surprise,” he said. He is hoping that with a return to cooler temperatures, he can move up another notch.

As for a particular target on GC, Betancur will not be drawn, saying simply, "I want to give it 100 per cent on each stage.

"I don't know the ascent to Etna, but I did go up the Zoncolan once, in 2011 or 2012, but the key will be in the last week."

One key stage in the Giro's final segment, the time trial to Rovereto, will now perhaps not be as daunting for Betancur as it would have been before his performance in Jerusalem.

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