Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) arrived at his post-stage winner's press conference close to two hours after winning alone atop the wall of Guardiagrele but nothing could dent his satisfaction after he confirmed that he is back to his very best and ready to take on anyone, including Chris Froome, at the Volta a Catalunya and more importantly at the Tour de France.
Contador has returned to firing off his Pistolero winning salute this year, with each victory boosting his confidence even more.
“Winning is always important for your confidence," he said.
"When you win one, they seem to come easier. Though at times winning resists you and sometimes you start winning from the very start of the season."
"I was good before Algarve and before this race but you never know if you're going to win. It's good for my confidence. I'm feeling good and so I was able to win from far out, which is nice too."
Contador denied that he had wanted to show who was strongest by attacking so far out. His second acceleration on the Passo Lanciano cracked Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and showed that he was far superior to Nairo Quintana (Movistar).
"I think there are some very strong riders in this race," he said modestly. "But today I felt good, right from the start of the climb. That gives you confidence and I'm happy because I've been working very hard I get the same sensations that I've felt at camps, where I've worked very hard."
Bjarne Riis had told journalists at the finish in Guardiagrele that Contador had suffered in 2013 when he struggled in the Tour de France.
The Danish team manager revealed that he had convinced Contador to train with more structure and scientifically.
Contador suggested that he'd worked better and harder because he'd managed to isolate himself from lots of distractions.
"I'm a kind of rider that sets winning as my goal and so when you don't have the legs or there are riders who are stronger than you, it means you have a fight with what's on your mind," he said giving a glimpse of his inner thoughts.
"This winter my preparation was better. I isolated myself from lots of compromises that took time from my training. I spent a lot of time training with just a few teammates and in one camp we did a lot of climbing.”
"I also kept my mouth closed to keep my weight under control, which is harder to do as you get older. I think we can see the results of all that work today."
The wheel turns in Contador’s favour
Before the start of the season Contador was under pressure to show he was not past his best and Chris Froome seemed set to continue his dominance of the stage races and Tour de France. It is only mid-March but the wheel seems to have turned dramatically, with Contador on form, while Froome was forced to watch Tirreno-Adriatico on television at home after a back injury force him to take a break from racing and training.
Contador is on a roll but insisted he still has room for improvement.
"It’s clear that my season has only just started," he said.
"I still need more race rhythm. My weight is where it needs to be but I need some more tone in my legs. I don’t yet have that little bit extra bit for the big goals of the season like the Tour de France and the Vuelta."
Contador will clash with Froome at the Volta a Catalunya (March 23-30) but dismissed suggestion Froome may be worried after seeing how Contador has dominated Tirreno-Adriatico and shown his best form since before his ban for doping.
I think he’ll be focusing on his training and for getting ready for next race, not worrying about me," Contador said with a wry smile.
"He wants to win every race he rides too."