Spaniard Alberto Contador sent a strong message to his Tour de France rivals on Friday when he blasted to his national time trial championship victory: in short, it read, "I'm ready".
The Astana rider powered through the 47.8km course in 1:04:40, putting in an heroic effort over the final 20km to reverse a one-second deficit to Caisse d'Epargne's Luis León Sánchez. By the finish line, Contador had pulled out an extra 37 seconds for good measure to claim the right to wear his national colours at the opening stage of the Tour de France in Monaco on July 4.
The race was the final test for Contador before the Tour, and a last chance to put his new prototype Trek TTX time trial bike through the rigors. It is clear that both passed with flying colours.
For a rider who was happy to crack the top ten in time trials even in the year he won the Tour de France, Contador's improvements in the discipline have been nothing short of remarkable.
His best result in the race against the clock in 2007 was a second place in the Vuelta al Pais Vasco. On the way to taking home the maillot jaune in the Tour that year, Contador was 15th in the prologue, sixth in the stage 13 test and fifth on the penultimate stage which was good enough to keep the overall lead.
In 2008, Contador showed improvements in this area, taking 2nd, 4th and 11th in time trials in the Giro d'Italia on his way to the overall victory. After placing fourth in the Olympic Games TT, he went on to show a decided improvement in the Vuelta a Espana, claiming second and fourth in the two individual tests.
This year, his skills in the art of suffering alone have brought him to the top of the results sheet on now four separate occasions and over a variety of distances.
In February, he bested French TT champ Sylvain Chavanel on the way to the win in the 33.7km Tour of Algarve TT. In March, he stunned the cycling world by beating Olympic pursuit champion Bradley Wiggins on a flat and fast 9.8km course to claim the first stage of Paris-Nice.
Later in April Contador won over 24km in the Vuelta al Pais Vasco, and Friday he flew to the win over 47.8km.
With two individual time trials awaiting him in the Tour - one of15km in Moncao next week, and one of 40km on the Tour's final week - Contador has shown he has the strength and versatility to succeed over any distance and will be not just limiting his losses, but gaining time on his rivals.
The only question that remains is who will be better and claim the right to be team leader - Contador or Lance Armstrong?