Wout Poels’ off-hand confirmation, after his victory in Wednesday’s time trial stage of Paris-Nice, that he is riding this year’s Giro d’Italia came as a surprise to many. But the possibility – if Chris Froome is subject to a ban following his Adverse Analytical Finding for Salbutamol – of leading Team Sky at the corsa rosa fails to unnerve him.
"I am just focused on my training and racing,” Poels said in St Etienne. "I'm ready to lead the team, but I hope Chris and I start the Giro together."
Poels already has good memories of the Giro, based on his performance in the 2014 edition of the Italian race, in which his team leader, Rigoberto Urán, then with Omega Pharma-Quick Step, finished second behind Nairo Quintana.
"I was Uran's key helper in the mountains," Poels said on Thursday. "I know the Zoncolan from that Giro because I worked well that day and then, in the finale of the stage, I was with Urán, and I had Quintana on my wheel.
"That was a great feeling. It was a pity that there was a big break ahead. Mick Rogers won, otherwise I might have been able to, I felt so good."
Poels' career was almost ended by the 'Metz massacre', the infamous 2012 Tour de France high-speed crash that left several riders seriously injured. Remarkably, he tried to race on after the crash, but was soon on his way to hospital. He suffered a ruptured spleen and kidney, as well as other injuries, and was put in intensive care.
For a while, he believed his career was over.
"It took a few years to get consistent results again," he said. "But now I know my body well, especially after the crash in 2012, because I had to recover slowly."
As Paris-Nice reaches the Cote d'Azur, Poels may be on the verge of success in the 'Race to the Sun' and also of leadership duties at the Giro, both of which are likely to come with significant pressure given the atmosphere surrounding his team. But, on the basis of his current form, he may also prove to be Sky's best insurance policy, should Froome be sidelined.
"The team decided they wanted me to do the Giro, but I have a say too and I really wanted to do it," he said. "I always thought that I was best suited to the Vuelta, because in my career as a Grand Tour rider, I've built some profile there and it was the first race where I got good results.
"But the last couple of years I've been performing well in the spring so I expect to do that in the Giro. I can peak at the right moment and I know that when the road goes up, it's good for me."
After Paris-Nice, Poels has a break before heading to Tenerife for two weeks of training at altitude, prior to returning to race in La Flèche Wallonne, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and then the Giro d'Italia.
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