Thibaut Pinot sits 28 seconds behind Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and only two seconds ahead of Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) in the overall classification of the Giro d'Italia but believes he has a genuine chance of wearing the leader's pink jersey after Tuesday's 39.8km individual time trial.
"Dumoulin will perhaps take time on me or maybe not. I beat him at the Tour de Romandie time trial and I could even challenge for victory, not all the specialists are here, so why not?" Pinot asked, when speaking to the media on Tuesday, upbeat after his strong ride on the slopes of Blockhaus.
"The favourites are Thomas, Dumoulin and Jungels. I'm just below them. On a good day, I could take it."
Like all the teams, FDJ made the three-hour transfer from the Blockhaus to Foligno in central Umbria on Sunday night to see the time trial course and better enjoy the rest day. He rode with teammate and confident Steve Morabito and like what he saw of the Sagrantino time trial through the rolling hills and vines.
"I saw the time trial course this morning. It's nice. It's not very technical, it's a chrono for strong riders, with two climbers for rouleurs-grimpeurs. It suits me. Of course I've got to see what I can do because I haven't ridden a 40km time since last season," Pinot said.
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- Dumoulin: If I can take Giro lead on Tuesday, I will
- Quintana: Montefalco time trial will suit the specialists
"The climbers will not be completely disadvantaged and so Quintana could even keep the jersey if he does a good time."
Pinot knows he has a shot at pulling on the pink jersey, if not in the time trial, then again on Wednesday's tough stage in the Tuscan and Romagna Apennines, where Dumoulin could be distanced. That would put the Frenchman at the centre of attention and pile on the pressure and responsibility. But Pinot does not see an early spell in pink as a poisoned chalice.
"I don't see it that way and certainly wouldn't want miss out on the chance. The pink jersey doesn't scare me," he said.
"We've got a team to ride on the flat and in the mountains. It'd also be a great experience for the guys, they'd be happy too. Of course, we've got to be realistic too, Dumoulin is very strong."
Pinot impressed on the climb to the summit of Blockhaus on Sunday and arguably became Quintana's biggest threat after Nibali faltered and lost a minute. He said his glass was half full but is thirsty for more.
"My goal is to finish on the podium in Milan and win a stage. I could have won at Etna under different circumstances. On the Blockhaus I was second but beaten by a better rider. You can always do better but I'm happy for now," he said.
Pinot refused to become despondent after Quintana's attack on the Blockhaus, knowing that winning the Giro d'Italia is about far more than pure climbing ability on stage 9.
"Is he beatable? We'll have to see what happens. He could suffer on a cold or rainy day. We will have the first answer tomorrow (Tuesday) evening, if he loses a lot of time or not at all in the time trial," he argued.
Pinot was not surprised to see Quintana attack but admitted that like most people, he struggles to understand Quintana's form.
"He followed the same tactics as on Terminillo at Tirreno-Adriatico, he attacked several times until he dropped us," he pointed out.
"He's difficult to decipher because I've never talked to him, he's always very focused on his race. I don't know him that well. He always has the jersey zipped up, he never seems to suffer, he's never too hot or too cold. You never know when he's going good or going bad."