Pavel Sivakov (Team Ineos) starts the Giro d'Italia's final week, following Monday's rest day, in ninth place on the general classification, with a seven-second lead in the white jersey competition as the race's best young rider.
The Russian takes a step into the unknown on Tuesday's stage 16, having only gone two weeks into his only other Grand Tour – the 2018 Vuelta a España – before being forced to leave on stage 14 due to injuries sustained in an earlier crash.
Sivakov came into this year's Giro in a loosely defined leader's role, alongside British rider Tao Geoghegan Hart, with a brief to try to enjoy himself and "try crazy things", to quote Ineos team manager Dave Brailsford.
But when Geoghegan Hart crashed out of the race on stage 13 last week, heading home with a broken collarbone, Sivakov found himself in the certainly 'crazy' position that he's still in now: in the top 10 of the Giro, clad in the white jersey as best young rider. With just six stages remaining, the 21-year-old could be heading for the sort of result that many pro riders only dream about.
"When I came into the race, I didn't expect to be in this position heading into the last week," he said on the Team Ineos website, speaking on the race's second rest day. "It's good for me and I hope to maintain this performance, and why not try to do even better?
"If you look at the top 10, the guys up there are all established riders who have done top 10s in Grand Tours before," he continued. "So it's a bit of a surprise for me, and I think for everybody a little bit. It feels a bit weird to see myself up there, but when I'm racing, you're just there in your own bubble, doing your own thing. In that sense it's normal, and you just make the best of it."
Sivakov was happy to admit that he'd found Sunday's stage to Como the toughest stage so far at this year's race, but came out of it happy to have held Astana's Miguel Angel Lopez at bay in the white-jersey competition, if only by seven seconds.
"Yesterday I didn't feel too good, and I was really happy to arrive at the rest day," said Sivakov. "We'll see how it goes tomorrow [stage 16, Tuesday]. That's one of the biggest tests of the entire race. We'll see who's up there and who isn't. It's going to be interesting for sure.
"It's going to be hard to keep the white jersey. We saw Lopez took some time on Sunday, but I'll fight until the end."
The Giro's final week begins here, and all the Russian can do, he says, is cross his fingers and hope for the best.
"It's a new thing for me, so I'm going into the unknown a bit," admitted Sivakov. "I just hope to keep having the same legs, and maybe improve, even. It's always possible that some guys will crack. You just have to hope that it's not you."
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