Jungels: I've shown that my shape is good at the Giro d'Italia
Luxembourger carries overall lead into mountains
The general classification picture at the Giro d'Italia is still rather lacking in definition, and so it is perhaps fitting, then, that the race is being led by a rider still unsure of how precisely to define his ambition over the coming ten days.
Bob Jungels (Etixx-QuickStep) enjoyed a tranquil second day in the maglia rosa on the rain-soaked stage 12 to Bibione – certainly compared to his defiant attack on the road to Asolo the previous day – but he faces into a sterner test of his resolve as the Giro prepares to enter the high mountains.
Though Jungels' potential as a stage racer has been touted since he turned professional, his back catalogue in the Grand Tours is a limited one. He abandoned his debut Vuelta a España in 2014 and then placed 27th overall in his first Tour de France last year, and there is understandable uncertainty over where precisely he fits in the overarching narrative of this Giro.
Jungels holds a lead of just 24 seconds over Andrey Amador (Movistar), but is more than a minute clear of the principal pre-race favourites for final overall victory in Milan, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana).
"Maybe you have to ask the others if they see me as a contender, I don't know," Jungels said on Thursday. "For me, it's the first time I'm in the GC of a Grand Tour, so like I said before I'm going to take it day by day and we'll see tomorrow what is going to happen."
While the mammoth Dolomite leg on stage 14 boasts the more storied names – the Passo Pordoi, Passo Sella and Passo Giau are all on the menu – Friday's less heralded ascents in Friuli of the Matajur, Crai, Porzus and Valle also have the potential to break the race apart.
Giro d’Italia stage 12 results
Giro d’Italia stage 12 – Finish line quotes
By any measure, it will be the most significant examination of the race to date, and while Jungels admitted that he is unsure of ability to stay with the best in the high mountains, he was bullishly optimistic about the state of his form – with good reason, on the evidence of his showings in the Chianti time trial and at Asolo on stage 11.
"Of course I'm ready, I've shown in the last few days that my shape is good. I'll fight for my jersey and then we'll see what can happen," Jungels said. "I haven't done any of the climbs [on Friday – ed.] so it will be a surprise for me.
"I think that it will be a really tough stage. At the moment, I don't really know where I am compared to the others in the really high climbs. I have shown that my shape is great but tomorrow will be the first test in the really high mountains."
Congratulations from Schleck
After Jungels placed sixth in Sunday's Chianti time trial to move within one second of the overall lead, one of the first messages of congratulations he received was from his fellow countryman Andy Schleck.
When Schleck emerged to place second overall at the 2007 Giro d'Italia as a callow 21-year-old, it seemed to herald the arrival of a rider who would dominate stage racing for the decade to come. Schleck's was to prove an ephemeral talent, however, and an unfulfilled career was cut short by injury in 2014, though that that dizzying May in the white jersey did leave a legacy in Luxembourg.
"I was 14 years old and I remember watching it on television at home," Jungels said earlier this week. "Andy Schleck was a big inspiration for me."
The 23-year-old Jungels' development has been relatively gradual, at least in comparison to Schleck's meteoric rise in the spring of 2007. The rocky road to Cividale del Friuli on Friday will shed more light on whether he can last the distance.
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Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation (opens in new tab), published by Gill Books.