Giro d'Italia

Caruso eyes top-five Giro result as the race nears Milan

The BMC Racing rider was 1:25 outside the top 5 entering Friday's mountainous stage 19

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The fight for the pink jersey is all but a formality, with Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) more than five minutes in the lead, but there is still quite a dogfight among the top-10 riders as the Giro d’Italia pedals into its final two mountain stages.

Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale-Garmin) punched into the top 10 with another strong day in the mountains Thursday, and promises more at Cervinia and Sestriere. Costa Rican Andre Amador (Movistar) is lurking just 56 seconds behind Fabio Aru (Astana) in fourth place, and harbors ambitions to finish on the final podium in Milan.

And a bit further down on GC, BMC Racing’s Damiano Caruso, seventh overall at 11:05 back, is quietly hoping to bump into the top 5.

Caruso has ridden into the top 10 in every key mountain stage so far, and that consistency is reflected in the GC. Despite losing three minutes to Contador in the long, stage 14 time trial, he didn’t give up too much time to his immediate GC rivals.

Coming into Friday’s stage, Caruso was only 21 seconds behind sixth-place Leopold Konig (Sky), and 85 seconds behind fifth-place Yuri Trofimov (Katusha). Those three will be keeping a close eye on each other over the next two climbing stages.

The 27-year-old Italian has been doing a good job to stay right in the heat of the battle since the Giro began. He came into this Giro as BMC’s GC leader, and although the team knew they were not racing to win, racing for something in the overall standings helps to give the other riders on the team motivation to ride hard going into the final stages.

“It’s an adjustment. This is my first grand tour in a while without Cadel. We have Caruso, he’s shown he’s a good leader. He’s very proactive and always switched on, and it makes it easier to ride. He’s our only Italian, and he’s at home, he’s inspired,” said BMC’s Brent Bookwalter, who was one of Cadel Evans’ most consistent lieutenants during the Australian’s career. “It’s pretty clear who the three strongest are, but how many times have we seen surprises at the Giro? I don’t think it’s fair to put a number on Damiano, let’s protect him, and see what he can do when it counts.”

So far, Caruso has lived up to the task. When Evans retired at the beginning of this season, BMC was already shopping around for a promising GC talent to build into a leader for the Giro and Vuelta a España. With Tejay van Garderen set to lead at the Tour de France, BMC knew it had some holes to fill.

When Cannondale merged with the Garmin organization coming into 2015, Caruso was on the market. After riding into the top 20 in the 2013 Giro (19th) and ninth in the 2014 Vuelta, BMC saw untapped promise in the budding all-rounder.

So why even bother with trying to ride into the top 10? Isn’t it better to perhaps lose time early, and then have the liberty to try to win a stage? Anyone lurking in the top 10 is not being given any rope by the GC favorites, something Hesjedal has expressed frustration over during the past few mountain stages.

According to BMC sport director Valerio Piva, it’s important to chase a steady GC result on many levels.

“The points for a top 10 in a grand tour are very important. They count for a lot at the end of the season,” Piva said. “And maybe he will not win this year, but racing hard for a good finish at this Giro will be good for Damiano. If he can finish close to the top 5 this year, then he knows what it takes to aspire for the podium. It also gives the team something to ride for. You see a lot of teams here without any purpose.”

When VeloNews spoke with Caruso earlier in the Giro, he was relishing the chance to lead the team on the GC front.

“It gives me a lot of motivation to have this team working for me here at this Giro,” Caruso said. “I am learning a lot since coming to BMC. They are helping me develop into a leader for the overall. It’s a big challenge, but it also makes me motivated to work hard.”

Caruso will have to “work hard” for two more days. If he can hang in there, it looks like he will already have his best career grand tour result in the bag. A top 5 would be an added bonus for a consistent, hard-fought Giro.