Andrey Amador rode to third place in the Giro's...

Poised for pink: Amador is Movistar’s plan B

Stage 4 of the Giro d'Italia suits Andrey Amador's style, and he could surge into the race lead at the end of the lumpy, 200km route.

If Alejandro Valverde is Movistar’s outright leader, the Spanish outfit also has another card to play in the Giro d’Italia with Costa Rican all-rounder Andrey Amador.

Fourth overall last year behind Alberto Contador, the Central American is taking aim at the final podium in Torino while at the same time helping Valverde win the pink jersey. Possible? Amador believes it is.

“I come here very motivated,” Amador told the Spanish daily AS. “We count on one of the strongest and most consistent leaders in the peloton with Valverde, and I take pride working for him. I will back his options for three weeks, and I will also play a second card for the Movistar team.”

That “Plan B” is already apparent in the opening days of the Giro. Amador blasted to the third-fastest time in the opening time trial, just 6 seconds slower than winner Tom Dumoulin of Giant – Alpecin. Marcel Kittel of Etixx – Quick-Step carried the pink jersey into Italy thanks to time bonuses that came with winning the first two road stages, but Tuesday’s bumpy stage presents an interesting opportunity for Amador.

Kittel and the other pure sprinters are likely to get dropped over a string of steep hills in the final hour of racing of the 200-kilometer fourth stage to Praia a Mare. The final climb, though un-rated, features ramps as steep as 18 percent, hard enough to spit out the likes of Kittel with 8.5km to go, opening the door for someone to take the pink jersey.

Dumoulin remains second, at 9 ticks back, with Amador looming at 15 seconds adrift. If Movistar can put enough pressure to crack both Kittel and Dumoulin and bring Amador in with a reduced bunch to the finish, the pink jersey could be his.

Amador went hard out of the gate in the Giro (third in the opening TT and ninth in the sprint in stage 2) to maintain his options for pink in the first week. Last year, he was fourth at the Giro at 8:10 back, just ahead of Ryder Hesjedal in fifth, but nearly five minutes behind the third-place Mikel Landa.

“I have good legs, and I wanted to go full-gas in these first days to take advantage of the work. It’s important that I’m in a good moment,” Amador told AS. “Maybe it’s the mountains [in Italy] that are long and steep, and I’ve adapted better than those of the Tour or Vuelta.”

Now 29, Amador has been knocking around the peloton since turning pro with Movistar in 2009. His father is Costa Rican and his mother is Russian (his second last name is Bikkazakova), and he’s one of the few Central Americans to break into the European peloton. In 2011, became the first “Tico” to start and finish the Tour de France, recovering from a brutal assault earlier in the season when thugs attacked him on a training ride.

The following year, he claimed his lone professional victory, winning stage 13 to Cervinia high in the Italian Alps, the same day Hesjedal claimed the pink jersey en route to becoming Canada’s first grand tour winner in 2012.

This Giro is Amador’s ninth career grand tour start, and he’s earned the recognition of his team to come to the Giro as co-captain. Movistar is hoping to follow a similar tactic as last year’s Tour that ended with Nairo Quintana and Valverde sharing the podium in Paris.

As he mentioned, Amador typically goes better in Italy than he does during the Tour or Vuelta, so he’s definitely a podium threat behind the top favorites. A strong time trialist as well as a steady climber, he’s also finished in the top 10 overall at the Tour of Poland (sixth in 2014) and Tirreno-Adriatico (eighth in 2013). After a busy 2016, including a full northern classics program, he was second to Michael Albasini in stage 5 at the Tour de Romandie, so he’s hitting the Giro in top form.