Few riders negotiated the pitfalls of a chaotic opening week of the Giro d'Italia as well as Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo), who finds himself in third place overall, 1:10 off the maglia rosa of Cadel Evans as the race pauses for its second rest day in Modena.
The Pole moved into the white jersey of best young rider over the weekend, and is the favourite to win the classification in Trieste after narrowly missing out to Carlos Betancur twelve months ago.
This time around, however, Majka's ambition will hardly be limited to that competition. Seventh overall in 2013, the 24-year-old has designs on a podium place this year, and at Sestola on Sunday, his Tinkoff-Saxo team set out their stall by hitting the front of the pink jersey group on the final climb, with Michael Rogers particularly to the fore.
"It was more or less to keep him out of trouble really because we knew it was quite steep and quite narrow," Rogers told Cyclingnews at the finish. "I think it worked, it was quite a good thing to do and he saved a bit of energy there."
Before the stage, Majka admitted that he had made in error in launching a tentative attack at Montecopiolo the previous day, explaining that the effort had left him unable to follow Evans and Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) in the final haul to the line.
"Maybe I used some energy there and for the final I lost five seconds on Evans and Uran," said Majka, who – like so many in the Giro peloton, including Nairo Quintana (Movistar) – is still feeling the effects of his fall during the mass crash at Montecassino on stage 6. "I feel a little bit the crash but I think I'll be much stronger in the coming weeks."
On the final climb to Sestola on Sunday, Majka opted not to respond when Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r-La Mondiale) danced clear on the steepest section with five kilometres remaining, and he crossed the line safely tucked into the pink jersey group with Evans, Uran and Quintana.
"We knew it was only four or five percent in the last four kilometres so one person on his own was either going to have to be super strong to ride away or he was going to have to use a lot of energy," Rogers said. "Still, Pozzovivo rode well and he gained a little bit of time."
The Giro's tough opening week has prematurely ended the general classification hopes of some – crash victims Dan Martin and Joaquim Rodriguez have already gone home, while Michele Scarponi slid out of the reckoning on Saturday – but as the general classification picture takes shape, so do the ambitions of the men who have survived in its upper reaches.
Majka famously joined Saxo Bank in the spring of 2011 after matching Alberto Contador on the climbs when invited to a team training camp in Mallorca, and his stock at Bjarne Riis' squad has risen steadily ever since. With the Montecassino crash ruining Nicolas Roche general classification hopes, Majka is now Tinkoff-Saxo's sole leader at this Giro.
"I think he can be on the podium," Rogers said of Majka's goals, although he was cautious about the prospect of the Pole taking the maglia rosa in Trieste. "I think it’s too soon to say. The time trial's probably not so suited to him but that last week certainly is."
Rogers, of course, is still feeling his way back into action at this Giro after he missed the opening months of the season after returning a positive test for clenbuterol at last year's Japan Cup. After months of deliberation, the UCI ruled that Rogers would not face further sanction and he is using the corsa rosa to build his condition for the Tour de France. Finishing in the pink jersey group at Sestola was, he said, a step in the right direction.
"I'm getting better and better," he said. "I'm missing that really top end, but I'm there when there are twenty guys there, so it's one step at a time."
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