New race leader Bob Jungels hopes to keep little Luxembourg's flag flying on the Giro d'Italia after claiming the pink jersey for the second year in succession on Tuesday.
On a drama-filled fourth stage to the wind-hit summit of Mount Etna, the 24-year-old all-rounder could only finish seventh behind Slovenian winner Jan Polanc.
But it was enough to give Jungels, sitting 13secs behind teammate and overnight leader Fernando Gaviria before the 181 km ride from Cefalu, the prestige of the race lead again on only his second participation.
Although defending champion Vincenzo Nibali and Colombian rival Nairo Quintana are considered the main favourites for overall victory in Milan on May 28, Jungels is hoping to finish as close to the podium as possible.
"I didn't really believe Fernando Gaviria when he said I'd take the 'maglia rosa' from him today," said Jungels, who took the race lead on stage 10 last year only to lose it on stage 13 when he was dropped on the final ascent.
"I would like to keep the jersey for longer than last year but we have a big stage on Sunday at Blockhaus. It will be more for true climbers like Quintana but I hope to stay in the lead as long as possible."
As the biggest cycling star in Luxembourg, where he won the national road and time trial titles in 2013, 2015 and 2016, Jungels is considered the natural heir to the once-famous Schleck brothers Andy and Frank.
Both are now retired from the sport after several years of duelling with Spanish star Alberto Contador, a three-time Tour de France winner, on the world's biggest bike race.
Jungels has taken up the baton with aplomb, finishing 27th overall on his Tour de France debut in 2015 and winning the young rider's classification at last year's Giro, when he finished an impressive sixth overall on his debut.
- 'Have to fight' -
A strong climber, who also excels in time trialling, Jungels said his time competing against "bigger nations" in the tough amateur ranks was invaluable.
"We are a very small country and as riders we always had to fight when we are younger, competing in the under-23 ranks against bigger nations in professional teams," he said.
"So we are alone, and have to fight our way through these difficult years to become professional. But I also think the job the Luxembourg federation is doing is very good.
"We're a small country with not so many riders, but we've had some quite good years."
Jungels will take a six and 10-second lead over British pair Geraint Thomas (Sky) and Adam Yates (Orica) respectively into Wednesday's 159 km fifth stage from Pedara to Messina, the last of two stages on Sicily and one which is likely to finish in a bunch sprint.
But he hopes to keep the Duchy's flag flying until Sunday's ninth stage, where the second of the race's four summit finishes is located at Blockhaus.
"On Sunday the finish is on Blockhaus, and there are going to be bigger favourites than me, guys like Nairo (Quintana)," added Jungels.
"The colour of my jersey has changed, but my opinion of my Giro didn't. It's not going to be easy because there are so many contenders in this year's Giro.
"My main goal is to make a good GC (general classification) here, it's a good milestone this year for my career."
© 2017 AFP