Bob Jungels is proving to be an up-and-coming GC...

23-year-old Jungels defends maglia rosa with panache

No one knows how far Bob Jungels can carry the maglia rosa into the Giro's mountains, but the 23-year-old is riding with panache.

ASOLO, Italy (VN) — The best way to defend pink? Attack. That’s what Bob Jungels did late in Wednesday’s 11th stage in what’s quickly becoming a breakout Giro d’Italia for Etixx – Quick-Step’s promising Luxembourger.

In the closing kilometers of the surprisingly animated 227km transition stage across the Po Valley, Jungels didn’t hesitate to cover a counter-attack from pink jersey danger-man Andrey Amador (Movistar). Stage-winner Diego Ulissi (Lampre—Merida) wisely linked up to suck on the turbos of the two attackers, but it was Jungels who went full-gas all the way to the line.

“I never knew the maglia rosa could give me so much power and inspiration,” Jungels said. “When I saw the opportunity to get away from the favorites, I made my move. In the end, I tried to gain as many seconds as I could in order to keep the pink jersey as long as possible.”

In what’s been a near-perfect first half of the Giro, the 23-year-old is delivering on the promise many expected since he won the junior world time trial championship in 2010.

After edging close to pink since he opened the Giro with seventh in the first time trial in Holland, Jungels inherited pink from Etixx teammate Gianluca Brambilla in Tuesday’s hilltop finale following his superb time trial Sunday through the rain.

He became only the second Luxembourg rider to wear pink in the race’s history. The other? Climbing legend Charly Gaul in 1959.

“It was a dream for Bob to take the pink jersey,” said Etixx sport director Davide Bramati. “Today, it was the reality of good racing to keep it. We don’t know how long he can keep it, but today we are very happy to have it one more day.”

How far can Jungels go in this Giro? Though he’s a solid climber, he’s untested in the deep mountains of the Giro’s third week. He abandoned his debut grand tour, the 2014 Vuelta a España, and was 27th in his Tour de France debut last year. Despite having the pink jersey going into the second half of the Giro, Bramati refused to put a number on it.

“We don’t know how far he can go, and neither does he,” Bramati said. “He did a perfect job today to defend. We are happy now. We have three times the pink jersey with three different riders. Everything else from now on is a bonus.”

Jungels turned pro in 2012 with the Trek organization, and they hated to see him go to Belgian rival Etixx this season on a two-year deal. With a solid time trial and improving climbing skills, Jungels is a budding GC rider. He won Etoile de Bessèges stage race in France to open his 2015, and was third at Tirreno-Adriatico in March after winning a stage at the Tour of Oman in February.

Even Jungels doesn’t know how far he can go in this Giro, but he knows where he wants to go in the future.

“I came here thinking about the young rider’s jersey, and now I have the pink jersey,” Jungels said. “I am ambitious, and I want to see if I can improve in the high mountains in the future, and maybe race to win a grand tour. Right now, I am going to follow the top riders, and try to keep the pink jersey as long as I can.”