David Arroyo (Caisse d'Epargne) kept the pink jersey for yet another day after the time trial to the summit of Plan de Corones, confirming that he has a real chance of emerging as the surprise winner of the 2010 Giro d'Italia, or at least of holding onto a place on the podium in Verona.
Arroyo was sixteenth fastest in the 12.9km stage to the spectacular summit finish that has a 360-degree view of the snow-covered Dolomites. He lost 1:34 to Cadel Evans (BMC) and 1:06 to Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Doimo) - around a third of the time he had left before the time trial, but most importantly he is still in pink.
"I'm satisfied. I thought I'd lose more time. Now I can start dreaming about at least a place on the final podium," he said in the post-stage press conference.
"I'm not sure if I can win the Giro but the important thing is I've still got the pink jersey and I'll fight day after day to keep it."
Arroyo was only 25th fastest in the first part of the time trial, 1:20 slower than Evans, but recovered and covered the hardest, dirt road section in the sixth fastest time, losing only 14 further seconds to Evans.
"I knew I had to take it easy early on because I knew that the last five kilometres would be the most important and feel very long. My directeur sportif Neil Stephens told me I was doing a great finale and told me to push harder. I think that helped me gain time. I had a photograph of my son Marcos on my bike and that gave me extra determination, too."
Arroyo now faces five days of hard racing before the Giro ends in Verona on Sunday. The 30-year-old Spaniard knows the mountain stages to Peio Terme on Wednesday, and to Aprica on Friday and the Ponte di Legno on Saturday will be decisive.
The Aprica stage includes the Valico di Santa Cristina (11km at 7.6%) and the very steep Passo del Mortirolo (12.8km at 10.3%). The stage to Ponte di Legno begins with the 18km climb to the Forcola di Livigno and then climbs the legendary Passo di Gavia (24.9km at 5.6%), where Andy Hampsten took the pink jersey in the 1988 Giro d'Italia in the snow.
"I don't know the mountain stages that are left. I've been told that they're more suited to me and that I can perhaps limit my losses," Arroyo said.
"I've only ever seen the Mortirolo on television but I can descend pretty well, so I don't think the descents will be a problem for me even if the weather is bad. Both Evans and Basso are great riders and I'm worried about both of them but I'm ready to fight against them all the way to finish."