While all eyes are on the now three riders who at least on paper look likely to battle it out for the overall honours at the 2019 Giro d'Italia, Bora-Hansgrohe's Rafal Majka is sitting pretty in fourth place overall, 2:35 behind race leader Richard Carapaz (Movistar), 1:48 down on second-placed Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) and just 48 seconds behind Bahrain-Merida's Vincenzo Nibali.
While Carapaz has put the cat among the pigeons by first gaining time on his rivals on Friday's stage to the Colle del Nivolet, and then winning Saturday's stage to Courmayeur with an advantage of almost two minutes to his main rivals, Majka, too, came to the fore on Friday and Saturday, finishing sixth on the Nivolet stage and fourth the next day, leaping from seventh to fourth on the GC after the latter.
It leaves Majka in a strong position, and with plenty of opportunities still to pounce this week on what are a number of tough stages yet to come at this year's race.
On stage 15 from Ivrea to Como on Sunday – following part of the fabled Il Lombardia course – Majka dropped 25 seconds to Carapaz and Nibali, but gained another 15 seconds on a beleaguered Roglic. Of course, danger lurks close behind Majka, too, in the shape of Carapaz's Movistar teammate Mikel Landa – 40 seconds behind him in fifth place – with Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) a further 23 seconds further back in sixth.
"Today is the first day that we really suffered on these short climbs," Majka said on his Bora-Hansgrohe team's website. "It's not easy after four days of riding full gas all the time, but today we still tried not to lose time and keep fighting. We maintained our good place in the GC with my fourth position, and we worked together to achieve this."
Help came in particular from Majka's teammate Davide Formolo, who's impressed at this Giro off the back of his stage win at the Volta a Catalunya in March, and was even forced to wait for his team leader during Sunday's stage.
"Davide was strong and waited for me at the top of the decisive climb, and we then tried to bridge the gap. We didn't quite succeed, but we can be satisfied with our results," said Majka.
"This was another hard stage," added Bora-Hansgrohe sports director Jens Zemke of Sunday's race, "and we're still sitting within reach of the podium with our fourth place, which is a very good achievement.
"Today, Davide had to wait for Rafal on the decisive climb, so that they'd be able to work together on the rest of the stage. Our guys performed well today yet again and finished in eighth and 11th place, which means that they also sit in fourth and 12th in the overall standings. Chapeau – they put in a very solid day's work today," said Zemke.
The still-only-29-year-old Majka has been nothing short of consistent at Grand Tours, and over a long period of time, too. He truly announced himself with his seventh place overall at the 2013 Giro, and proceeded to take two more top-10 finishes at the Giro, and a podium place at the Vuelta a Espana with his third place there in 2015.
His best finish at the Tour de France may only be 19th, at last year's race, but he's best remembered for winning the polka-dot 'king of the mountains' jersey at the Tour in both 2014 and 2016, and for his three stage wins at La Grande Boucle: two in 2014 and one in 2015.
After a relatively fallow 2018 season, Majka appears to have bounced back in 2019, and his best may yet be to come. One look at his Giro results over the past few years suggests that he's on the right track: seventh in 2013, sixth in the 2014 and fifth in 2016, when he last rode the race.
Going by that pattern, fourth place overall may be what Majka's 'supposed' to get at this year's Giro – but he's taking aim at the podium.
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