Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) does not consider that Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) already has the Vuelta a España won with five days remaining until Madrid.
The 39-year-old, winner 10 years ago, vows to fight to over throw the Slovenian leader in the coming mountain stages. Roglič leads Spain's Valverde by 2-48 minutes. Slovenian Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) sits third overall at 3-42.
"It is Roglič who has the most to lose," Valverde said at Movistar's rest day press conference.
"Everyone speaks of him as if he already has the Vuelta won and we, on the other hand, hope to turn it around."
Roglič placed fourth overall in the 2018 Tour de France, but more encouragingly for Valverde and other hopefuls, Roglič cracked in the latter half of the Giro d'Italia this year from a strong position, eventually finishing third.
He led the race for he first five days, won the two time trials, but faded to last spot on the podium. Movistar's Richard Carapaz became the first Ecuadorian Giro winner when it ended on June 2 in Verona.
"We do not know if he will weaken," said Valverde. "At the moment, he has not shown any weakness, although on Monday when he attacked for the second time, Miguel Ángel López opened a gap. Although then Roglič was able to hunt them down and we minimised the losses. He has always shown weakness last week, but today he looks good."
Only stages 18 tomorrow and 20 on Saturday offer Valverde and his Movistar team with Nairo Quintana and Marc Soler a chance to flip the classification. The stages are not high mountain stages, but days where the team could set traps.
The Vuelta a España has seen it happen in other years. In 2015, Fabio Aru and the Astana team upset Tom Dumoulin on the final mountain stage before the stage 21 Madrid finish.
"Achieving something like that would be spectacular. We will try, but we must also be realistic," Valverde said.
"Last year, I was in a similar situation with Yates and in the end, I ended off the podium. I am afraid that will happen, but I know it can happen. If you are afraid, something happens to you."
Valverde slipped from second to fifth overall last year when Simon Yates won. At his age, the current world champion is happy with his spot on the podium.
"I think I would have signed up to be in this position before the Vuelta. It is true that I have already won this race and that I am ambitious, but I'm also realistic," he continued.
"I will fight for the final victory but if we end up on the podium, it would not be bad either."
Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
Join now for unlimited access
Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1