As the leading member of an interesting trio from Caisse d'Epargne laying sixth, seventh and eighth of the Vuelta a España general classification - around two minutes down on race leader Igor Antón after the Pyrénées - Marzio Bruseghin has become a man to watch for the last part of the race while team-mates Rubén Plaza and Rigoberto Uran are likely to make life hard for hot favourites Antón and Vincenzo Nibali.
"This year's Vuelta is very hard with a high level of riders in all the aspects of the race," Bruseghin told Cyclingnews at the start of stage 12 in Andorra. "It's a very demanding race. We spend a lot of energy every day.
"The race remains very open with a 46km time trial and the gruelling uphill finish of the Bola del Mondo on the second last day. We've seen yesterday with Joaquin Rodriguez that everything can happen. He looked the strongest in the climb to Pal and he lost quite a lot," he added.
Bruseghin has set himself the opposite goal: to lose the least time possible on every climb and compensate his deficit in the time trial. "But the problem for me is the time bonus," said the Italian veteran. "Antón has already scored 48 seconds bonus.
"At every mountain top finish, there are 20 seconds for the winner. Imagine if Antón wins the six of them: only in bonuses, it represents two minutes! That's a lot of time to regain during the time trial. And there's only one time trial this year - usually at the Vuelta there are at least two."
Bruseghin was the 2006 Italian champion against the clock. With his "tricolore" jersey, he won the uphill time trial in Oropa at the 2007 Giro d'Italia. The donkey breeder - his other job - who turned pro in 1997 with Brescialat has become consistent in the grand tours during his thirties. For three consecutive years he made the top ten at the Giro (8th in 2007, third in 2008 and ninth in 2009) and also finished tenth at the 2008 Vuelta.
This year, following his fall out with Lampre, the 36-year-old returned to the Spanish team to which he rode for between 1999 and 2002, albeit under the name of Banesto. Team manager Eusebio Unzue said he was welcome back at Caisse d'Epargne any time, but his season was marred by a nasty crash on stage seven at the Giro. He was a non-starter the day of the Strade Bianche to Montalcino.
"It took me longer than I thought to come back," Bruseghin explained. "I'm not sure how fresh I am at the Vuelta because I'm used to having consistent seasons and not stop and go like this year. That's why I can't really declare my goal for the Vuelta.
"In a man-to-man situation, there are better riders than me in the mountains; we've seen it already with Antón and the other pure climbers. But we have a strong team and we can do something big if we manage to invent something special, anything can happen."