"There have been a lot of battles to get this," Beñat Intxausti (Movistar) said as he sat facing the Giro d'Italia press in his brand new pink leader's jersey after Friday's stage 7, "and it's going to be difficult to keep the jersey with [Bradley] Wiggins (Sky), [Ryder] Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) and [Vincenzo] Nibali (Astana) tomorrow."
"But I made the most of the opportunities. I knew it would be a hard day, and I finally could get through."
Now in his seventh year as a pro, the 27-year-old from Barakaldo has just two wins to his name, the overall of the Tour of Asturias in 2012 and a stage of the same race in 2010. But after many near misses, including last year when he lost 30 minutes in the Alps after a solid start to the Giro, this time all the cards have fallen his way.
Movistar started the Giro with a superb team time trial, finishing second behind Team Sky, then he followed that up in person by staying on the right sides of the splits in the rainy stages in southern Italy and staying upright again on Friday's tricky, rain-soaked, descents.
"Last year, I was doing a good Giro, but I got sick and lost a lot of time," he said, "I realised I could do well in this race, and we focused on getting me in good shape for it again."
"I had to take some risks on the descents, but I was lucky in the crashes and I got through without any problems."
"Holding the lead is a big responsibility, but the team has trusted me and my first dedication goes to them for helping me take it." His second dedication went to two very special people in his life who have died: professional Xavi Tondo, who was killed in a freak accident in Sierra Nevada in 2011, and his grandfather.
Intxausti doesn't know what will happen in Saturday's time trial "because although I've ridden long time trials, I've never had to defend a lead in one before, and there are some top specialists here."
Intxausti sounded cautious, but the possibilities of him remaining in the top spots - assuming he does not have a bad day as has sometimes happened when he's had a chance at past GCs - should not under-estimated.
His leadership of one of cycling's Grand Tours after a week of hard racing has not come by chance. Movistar showed when it took the Giro lead in 2010 with David Arroyo that it knows how to defend a top GC position in the Italian race. And as has already become obvious again in this year's race, the Giro is anything but predictable. After tomorrow's time trial, just as is the case for the rest of the top names, Intxausti's prospects should be a lot clearer.
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