"I myself don't think that I've already won the Giro. The only thing I can do is to try my best, and do what I have been doing for the past two and a half weeks. I'll do it with confidence because I don't have a weak point."
Ever since he took the maglia rosa in Corvara - and even before then - some have construed Steven Kruijswijk's commentary on his own abilities as a touch arrogant.
"There's always the possibility that the race leader will have an off-day - as happened to Contador last May on the penultimate stage to Sestriere - and, almost certainly without team-mates, it will be up to him to save it."
For someone that had never before worn a leader's jersey in a Grand Tour and to date, has only one stage race win on his palmarès (the Arctic Race of Norway, in 2014 - hardly a portent of what was to come), indeed, he's awfully self-assured.
Then again, this is a man who finished ninth overall in his second Giro d'Italia, also his second Grand Tour, aged 23. In 2014, his second Tour de France, riding in support of Bauke Mollema, he finished in 15th place, just five spots behind his team leader. Last year he was the designated leader in his fifth Giro participation, but was striving for a stage victory more than place on the podium; he came second twice, on two of the hardest legs, and still managed seventh overall.
Despite numerous breakaway attempts from the first week to the last that effectively ruined his GC chances, for Kruijswijk to have lost just short of 11 minutes to winner Alberto Contador was pretty damn good. Perhaps more telling, though - particularly in context of how he's gone this year and the final two mountain stages to come - was that from the Stage 14 time trial (where he was lying 21st overall) to the finish in Milan, the Dutchman conceded no time at all to El Pistelero; over the remaining seven stages he gained 10 seconds, in fact.
Kruijswijk, now 28, has said he doesn't feel like he's going any better this year than last year at the Giro. However, at his age, and in his cycling prime, he cannot deny that each Grand Tour he rides brings more strength in the legs, more experience, and with it, greater assuredness. It has thus seen him understand the limitations of his team in the mountains, and, at least a few times now, attack or ride at the front (Stage 14 to Corvara, Stage 16 to Andalo, and Stage 18 to Pinerolo all cases in point), so leaders of other teams are also without support: "As long as I'm ahead, I have the mental boost over them. It is important to show no weakness," he said Thursday.
Such a ploy, though, can only come with extreme confidence and/or extreme strength, which, so far, he has both - in spades. "From what we've seen today," Alejandro Valverde said after his victory in Andalo, "Kruijswijk is the strongest and I believe he'll be the champion at the end of the race."
With two huge, back-to-back mountain stages remaining, Valverde and Orica-GreenEDGE's adopted Aussie, Esteban Chaves, are realistically the only ones able to unseat the current maglia rosa, although in his final rest day interview the former observed this of Chaves: "I think he's really, really strong, but he seems to be happy with the place he's in at the moment." To be fair, and in light of what he's said about Kruijswijk, Valverde probably isn't willing to risk everything to win, either - but rest assured, he'll do everything he can to move past the Colombian if he can catch him out like he did on Tuesday.
Equally, if the altitude gets to Valverde as it did on the queen stage to Corvara, Chaves will be only too happy to distance himself from the wily Spaniard and the rest of the podium contenders. Of course, there's always the possibility that the race leader will have an off-day - as happened to Contador last May on the penultimate stage, en route to Sestriere - and, almost certainly without team-mates, it will be up to him to save it.
After a hat-trick of second places, I have a feeling our maglia rosa wants to stamp his authority with a stage win before Turin. Said Kruijswijk, "I showed in the last week that I'm really good on those long climbs. I need to have no fear; it is especially important when they attack."
So far he's walked the talk, and there's little to suggest his dream run won't continue. Time will tell what this weekend brings, other than a lack of sleep for the TV viewer.