Giro d'Italia leader Tom Dumoulin admits training at altitude may not be enough to stop Colombian rival Nairo Quintana reclaiming the pink jersey when the race hits the high mountains.
Dumoulin, the Olympic time trial silver medal winner from Rio, cruised to victory in the 10th stage time trial of the race on Tuesday to claim the 'maglia rosa' after pushing overnight leader Quintana down to second at 2min 23secs in arrears.
With Dutch compatriot Bauke Mollema (Trek), Frenchman Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) and defending champion Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain) all within three minutes of Dumoulin's lead, the scene is set for a thrilling finale to the 100th edition.
A year after compatriot Steven Kruijswijk narrowly missed a third-place finish, Dumoulin wants a shot at the pink jersey and has prepared specifically earlier this season on two high-altitude training camps -- at the Sierra Nevada in Spain and Tenerife -- to hone his skills on the "long climbs".
But after flying over a rolling, 39.8 km course in the Sagrantino wine-growing region to finish 49secs ahead of Britain's Geraint Thomas (Sky), he was quick to rein in his ambitions.
"It's a nice gap to go into the mountains, but like Nairo Quintana showed on (the ninth stage to) Blockhaus, he's the better climber, and a lot can happen in the third week," said Dumoulin, who won the opening stage time trial on home soil in Apeldoorn last year before losing the pink jersey on stage eight.
"The last week will be very, very difficult. Two and a half minutes is nothing in the final week, we will see."
Quintana, who said he felt "bitter" at losing the race lead, said: "Dumoulin was flying, he's a (time trial) specialist. He could now be my biggest rival."
At last year's Tour de France, Dumoulin underlined his improved climbing prowess by winning a tough stage to Arcalis in Andorra.
On Sunday, the Dutchman capped a courageous fightback on the climb to the summit of Blockhaus, overtaking Italian Nibali on the way, to finish third at just 24secs behind Quintana -- considered the best climber on the race.
Dumoulin should be pushed to the limit on stages featuring a succession of climbs, from stage 16 onwards, and he said: "It will be the hardest third week (of a race) I ever did. I will see how much of my time gap I can keep. But it will be very hard to keep this jersey until Milan."
But he added: "My plan from the beginning was to target the general classification in this Giro. I went on altitude training camps this year, which is different to how I prepared last year.
"Now, I'm doing less racing, more training. Preparing for long climbs."
© 2017 AFP