Fränk Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan) may not have started the Giro d'Italia at his own will, but after more than one week of racing the Luxembourger is widely seen as one of the big favourites for the overall win. On Saturday's stage to Rocca di Cambio, Schleck finished third, only three seconds behind Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD), and Italian team directors have started to admit their fear that he could have enough form after all to rival with their team leaders in search of the maglia rosa.
"There are two possibilities," Lampre directeur sportif Orlando Maini told L'Equipe. "Either he took this Giro as a punishment, in which case he will one day or another undergo a loss of of power, or he bluffed us and in this case he will surprise us all here because there is no boss in the peloton right now - the seat is vacant."
The elder of the Schleck brothers was called to the Italian grand tour at the last minute, and while it was obvious that the sudden change of race programme somewhat disturbed him, the Luxembourger's form and morale have continuously improved. "I had some difficult days in Denmark, because riding a grand tour is something that you also prepare in your head," he admitted. "But I'm following my father's advice and I'm trying to take this Giro as an opportunity now."
The 32-year-old finished Sunday's stage to Lago Laceno with the other GC contenders, and added that "the only one who really impressed me" during the final climb was the later stage winner Domenico Pozzovivo (Colnago-CSF) - a comment that shows his change of stance, and that did not go unnoticed.
"Of all the favourites, he [Schleck] is the most serene, as he has the least to lose," said Giuseppe Martinelli, Roman Kreuziger's mentor at Astana. Serge Parsani of Farnese Vini already sees the Italian GC contenders at risk of neutralising each other to Schleck's advantage. "He has something extra on the climbs, so if he manages to take the pink jersey, the Italians will not insist and will fight it out for second place."
Schleck currently sits ninth behind overall leader Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Barracuda), 48 seconds down and within just a few seconds of all the other GC contenders. But, as he said himself, the Giro's decisive stages are yet to come and anything can happen even before the third week of racing.
"I don't forget that my brother lost the Tour for 39 seconds [in 2010], so I prefer to remain prudent, alert on every opportunity because everything will count here," the RadioShack-Nissan leader said.