NOVI LIGURE, Italy (VN) — Valerio Conti knows his days in pink are counting down.
The UAE-Emirates rider has done the Giro d’Italia’s pink jersey right since claiming it in a breakaway last week. With the mountains looming, Conti has no illusions about how much longer he’ll be in pink.
For Conti, ever the realist, it’s not that he is going to lose it that counts, but how. And he already has a preferred style to go out.
“I will fight 110 percent to keep the maglia rosa,” Conti said. “It’s difficult to say which stage I will lose it. But when it happens, I’d like to lose to an attack from someone like [Vincenzo] Nibali.”
Going down swinging against Italy’s biggest star is not a bad way to flame out of pink.
The 26-year-old from Rome has held the jersey for nearly a week. He admits he’s getting used to the attention that comes with being in the leader’s jersey of Italy’s biggest race. And as an Italian rider, this is as big as it gets.
Every day before and after each stage, there are interviews, autographs, selfies, handshakes with VIPs, kisses from the podium girls, and pre- and post-stage protocol that are eating up his time. But he loves every minute of it.
“It’s been more special in ways I could not have imagined,” Conti said. “There is nothing negative about being in the jersey. The tifosi are so passionate and people call out my name on the road. Riders congratulate me and give me space in the peloton. You feel that respect for the maglia rosa wherever you go.”
Taking pink in stage 6, attacking out of a breakaway, is by far the biggest thing to happen so far in his six-year pro career. He’s won three races, including a stage in the 2016 Vuelta a España, and he’s only finished twice in the top-30 in seven previous grand tour starts. After riding as a stagiaire with Lampre in 2013, he’s stayed with the team as it morphed into UAE-Emirates in 2017.
Conti’s run in pink has taken the pressure off Jumbo-Visma and Primoz Roglic, who’s won both time trial stages to take important gains on the Slovenian’s direct rivals. Conti started 1:50 ahead of Roglic on GC as he signed in on Wednesday morning to cheers in Modena.
For Conti, his run in pink has been much more than just a stop-gap jersey-holder before the Giro “bigs” take over.
“I think it will change me in many ways,” Conti said. “I think it is changing the way people look at me, even on my own team. Everyone is supporting me, and I will give everything to pay them back.”
With the snow-bound Alps looming on the horizon, however, the days are counting down.
After what’s expected to be another bunch sprint Wednesday, Conti said he hopes to defend the jersey in Thursday’s 158km 12th stage from Cuneo to Pinerolo. The big danger there will be a breakaway or early sorties from the GC favorites on the Giro’s first major climb of 2019 – the Cat. 1 Montoso with about 40km to go.
The Giro finally gets serious Friday and Saturday, with back-to-back climbing stages that will see the battle ramp up between the overall favorites.
Can he hold it all the way to the next rest day on Monday? He’s not giving it away easily.
Conti knows he’s been little more than a parenthesis for a few days before the likes of Roglic, Nibali and Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) throw down.
Conti vows to go down in pink the way he won it — by attacking and racing aggressively.
“It will be sad to lose the jersey, it’s meant so much to me,” he said. “It’s difficult to say which stage I might lose it, but if I lose it to Nibali attacking, it will make me a little less sad.”