Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) sits in third place as the Giro d'Italia enters its final week – a position he says he'd have signed for at the start of the race. What he says he wouldn't have signed for is a deficit of 3:21 to Tom Dumoulin, the maglia rosa who he now sees as the 'big favourite' to stand on the top step of that podium in Milan.
"Before the start of the Giro I had Dumoulin down as one of the favourites, along with [Nairo] Quintana and [Vincenzo] Nibali, and now we're all there in the top four, so that's confirmation," said Pinot in his rest-day press conference on Monday. "But I think Dumoulin, with the lead he has, is the big favourite now.
"It's going to take a big breakdown [for him to lose the lead], or multiple breakdowns across the next few days. Like he had at the Vuelta when he was leader - we've seen it can happen."
Dumoulin indeed cracked on the penultimate day of the 2015 Vuelta under the pressure exerted by Fabio Aru and his teammates, though Pinot thinks it unlikely that will come to pass on Tuesday's highly-anticipated stage 16, which takes in the Mortirolo and a twin ascent of the Stelvio.
"It's not that he has trouble following attacks; it's that he manages his effort. It's a different tactic. I think he can use that tactic again because the climbs are less steep. The last climb I think is seven to eight per cent average so these are very regular climbs. If he's going to crack it'll be due to the accrual of climbs, but on one climb I believe he's as strong as Quintana.
"It’s Movistar who hold the key. They're the only team capable of controlling the race on a stage like that," he added. "So it's up to them to decide if they want to play everything on the final climb. I think it will be quite a controlled stage. It’s up to Quintana to take risks to try and win. And it's up to us, then, to take advantage.”
Pinot warned that by going on the attack from long range "you risk losing everything", but suggest his approach to the final week will be offensive rather than defensive.
"Before the Giro I'd have signed for the podium, but I wouldn't have signed for a gap of three and a half minutes to Dumoulin,” he said.
Asked how much time he'd need in hand over Dutchman going into the final-day 30km time trial, he said: "Given his performance on Tuesday, not two minutes because I'll be better on a course like that but, to really be calm, 1:30, I think."
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