Primoz Roglic rarely expresses his emotions in public but took a moment to thank the many Slovenian fans who gathered at the Jumbo-Visma bus at the foot of the climb to Croce d'Aune-Monte Avena, shaking their hands in thanks, smiling in appreciation of their support and bowing his head in a sign of respect.
Roglic is likely to finish third overall in the Giro d'Italia if he can pull back 23 seconds on Mikel Landa (Movistar) during the 17km Verona time trial. It is a good result and one he seems happy with after a rollercoaster three weeks that include a dominant victory in the opening Bologna time trial and five days in the maglia rosa. But the race has also thrown at Roglic a bike change debacle, a crash on the descent into Como and then a fight in the mountains to limit his time losses to Carapaz, Nibali and Landa.
The Jumbo-Visma rider started the Giro d'Italia as one of the big favourites after his run of stage race success at the UAE Tour, Tirreno-Adriatico and the Tour de Romandie. He confirmed his Grand Tour credentials in 2018, finishing fourth in the Tour de France but no doubt learnt more about himself and Grand Tour racing in the last three weeks. He is no longer a former ski jumper; he is a Grand Tour contender, even if a rather enigmatic and evasive one.
"How I do feel right now? I'm tired," he said after the stage to Croce d'Aune-Monte Avena. "It's impossible to control everything and everyone but I did what I could. This was a real queen stage. I gave 110 per cent until the finish line and I can be satisfied with that."
Roglic refused to elaborate further or discuss the ten-second time penalty he received for pushes from two fans on the climb. He signed off with a loquacious comment about his chances of winning the 17km Verona time trial and of pulling back the 23 seconds on Landa.
"We'll see at the finish tomorrow whether I still have the legs or not," Roglic said, getting on the bus and refusing to come off it.
That left senior Jumbo-Visma directeur sportif Addy Engels to talk about Roglic's Giro d'Italia and the final time trial.
"The podium is within reach but things have to go right. It's not already done. He has to go all out. If his legs are OK, then it's in reach. We still have to do it," Engels said, perhaps remembering the pasticcio of Sunday's stage to Como, when the team stopped for a natural break inside the final 20km, just when Roglic needed a bike change.
"It's been a crazy race. If he is able to make up the 23 seconds to Landa, I think we can celebrate with two stage victories and a podium," Engels argued.
"Looking over the three weeks, at the really decisive moments, we were not able to follow Carapaz, Nibali, Lopez or Landa.
"With more support in the mountains, with guys like [Robert] Gesink or [Laurens] De Plus in the race, I don't know if we would have won but we would have been more in the game. We wouldn't have lost the minutes to Carapaz and Landa. The biggest gap was on the Mortirolo, so I think he climbed pretty well in this Giro."
Engels explained that they had no qualms about accepting the ten-second penalty given to Roglic by the UCI race jury for being pushed by two loyal but over-enthusiastic spectators on the final climb.
"I did not see it, but we got a phone call from the president of jury. If it's that clear on TV, I understand the decision and we have to take the penalty. It's shit, but it's also correct," he admitted.
"People should cheer, be enthusiastic, but don't touch the riders, please," Engels said in a message to every fan at the roadside.