Giro d'Italia leader Navardauskas praises team

Ramunas Navardauskas (Garmin-Barracuda) might have been bluffing, but after cramming his 1 metre 90 frame behind a desk in the school where the Giro d'Italia's post-stage five press conference was held, the Lithuanian implied that his duties on Wednesday evening as race leader had been a lot more stressful than riding 200 kilometres in the middle of a 190-strong peloton the next day.

“Usually after a stage you take a shower and get to the hotel, but yesterday it was just the opposite,” Navardauskas said about what he called a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ experience of leading a Giro. “With all that media stuff, interviews and so on, I didn’t get to bed until midnight.”

“But the big effort today [Thursday] was not for me, it was for the team. I was always surprised at how hard they could work, they did a big job.”

Although several top women cyclists in the past decade or so have been Lithuanian, male riders have not shone for a while in the tiny Baltic state, which has a population of just three million people.

“I don’t know how much attention the press has being paying to this back there, I haven’t had time to look online, but I have had a lot of texts from my friends,” Navardauskas - the first ever Lithuanian to lead a Giro d’Italia - said.

“Everybody knows about it, I’m sure. But even now, I can’t say I’m the number one rider from there.” For one thing, as he pointed out, there have been many successful women cyclists from his country, who have also won or led important races.

The focus then switched to tomorrow’s stage and how long he thinks he can lead the Giro as it heads into the hills. And as a second year-pro, his lack of experience may begin to tell there.

Unlike Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and most of the Italians, Navardauskas has never tackled the Montelupone ‘wall’, the Mur de Huy-esque ascent which features regularly in Tirreno-Adriatico and which will feature 55.3 kilometres from the finish on Friday’s gruelling trek through the Apennine hills. In fact Navardauskas - who crashed out of Tirreno this year with a broken collarbone - didn’t even know the Montelupone was included in tomorrow’s stage. “Thanks for telling me about it,” he joked to Cyclingnews, “now I won’t sleep so well.”

However, the Lithuanian’s objectives remain very clear despite the radical change of terrain after stage five: help team GC leader Ryder Hesjedal and try and stay in pink himself for as long as posible.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen but I want to be there for Ryder,” the man they nickname 'The Honey Badger' said. “And if I can keep the lead then that would be great, too."

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Alasdair Fotheringham

Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The IndependentThe GuardianProCycling, The Express and Reuters.