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Andrey Amador, Steven Kruijswijk, Ilnur Zakarin,...

Four Giro underdogs to watch in the mountains

As the Giro d'Italia reaches its decisive mountain stages, watch out for Amador, Krujswijk, Zakarin, and Chaves, all lurking in the top 10.

BIBIONE, Italy (VN) — The Giro d’Italia heads toward its first Alpine climbs this weekend with four unsung cyclists sitting in the top 10 and poised for a high overall finish next Sunday when the race ends in Torino.

Bob Jungels (Etixx – Quick-Step) leads the race, but should not hold on for the race overall. Behind, mixed in among stars like Vincenzo Nibali, four lurk just below the surface: Andrey Amador (Movistar), Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL – Jumbo), Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha), and Esteban Chaves (Orica – GreenEdge).

Amador (2nd at 00:24) — The 29-year-old Costa Rican, the second-ever professional road cyclist from the Central American country, placed fourth overall last year in the Giro d’Italia. He began this year’s race mostly as Alejandro Valverde’s support rider, but the Spanish WorldTour team said that it is open to riding for either one.

“They are both the leaders,” Movistar team manager Eusebio Unzué said. “There are only a few that are up there in the overall group and we want to keep our riders there, then we will see when we get to the big mountain stage on Saturday.”

Amador went to Spain in 2007 to become a professional and did so in 2009 with Caisse d’Epargne, Movistar’s precursor. He has experience in the Giro. In 2012, he became the first Costa Rican stage winner and in 2014, he helped Nairo Quintana become the first Colombian to win the overall.

Kruijswijk (4th at 1:07) — His place ahead of the mountain stages should not be a surprise, but he has been mostly overshadowed by another Dutchman, Giant – Alpecin’s Tom Dumoulin. Dumoulin abandoned, and Dutch journalists turned to Kruijswijk, who rode to ninth overall in 2012 and reached seventh in 2015, despite losing time because of inattentiveness in the first week.

“It’s not what I expected, but what I was hoping for this year,” Kruijswijk said. “We are going to see who’s the strongest this weekend, and I hope I’m up there. Normally, the big climbs are good for me. I’m feeling confident for it. I think I’m capable to be there with the first riders, I’m expecting to be.”

Zakarin (7th at 2:25) — The 26-year-old won the Tour de Romandie last year ahead of Simon Spilak and Chris Froome, and a stage in the Giro d’Italia, but because he speaks mostly Russian and flies under the radar.

His team said that only his enthusiasm is holding him back. That had he been a little calmer, he may have not been relegated in a mountain sprint with Nairo Quintana (Movistar) in last month’s Romandie and he may have not crashed in the Chianti time trial Sunday. Zakarin’s time trial ride, without the crash, would have likely given him the pink jersey lead.

“He always wants to attack, he doesn’t know his limits,” said Katusha sport director Dmitry Konyshev. “It’s OK that way because only in this way can you understand yourself, attack and make a mess of the race. And, the race is still there for him to win.”

Chaves (8th at 2:43) — He caught the greater public’s eye when he dashed clear to win his first of two stages in the 2015 Vuelta a España in Caminito del Rey. Along with the stage, the 26-year-old Colombian placed fifth overall and confirmed Orica’s decision to sign him in 2013 when he was still recovering from a horrific crash that left him with a ripped axillary nerve in his right arm.

He cried with happiness when he placed fourth in the Tour de Langkawi’s Genting Highlands stage in 2014 because he felt that he had returned. He went on to win the big stages in the Tour of California and the Tour de Suisse that year. He showed his grand tour potential in 2015 and this year at the Giro, Orica brought a team to support him to the overall win.

The Giro overall should be within reach because as Chaves said, “I’m confident that I can one day win the Tour de France.”