Rohan Dennis fought hard to limit his losses to the overall contenders at Tirreno-Adriatico and so defend BMC's overall hopes on the climb to Terminillo. He lost the blue leader's jersey to Nairo Quintana (Movistar), slipping to sixth at 1:06 but produced an impressive ride, learning more about his Grand Tour ability and setting up a shot at the final podium on Tuesday.
BMC's expected team leader Tejay van Garderen finished further back, losing 2:19 to Quintana and dropping to 18th overall at 2:08. Dennis will be BMC's protected leader during Sunday's tough and very hill 210km stage to Fermo through the central Apennines and Le Marche 'muri' climbs.
"I did everything I could. The pace at six kilometres to go was probably a bit too much for me and I knew that, so I set my own pace and rode a time trial to the finish," Dennis told Cyclingnews with pride from the front seat of a team car, recovery food on his lap as he waited for the evacuation down from Terminillo. "It was a big lesson in stage racing for me. It wasn't the hardest 16km climb in the world but one of the best climbers in the world won it and I wasn't too far back.
"I've got to learn not to drop my head and keep the pressure on myself all the way to the finish in situations like that. That's my goal now. I can't swing off and recover for the next day. It's all about minimising any loss on each day. This race is an important lesson for me and an important step in it all."
Dennis is behind Jonathan Castroviejo (Movistar) and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) in the overall classification but believes he can gain time and pass them in Tuesday's final 10km time trial stage in San Benedetto del Tronto.
He is even hopeful of taking Adam Yates' scalp and moving up to second place overall.
"I think there's a chance to move up to second place overall in the final TT, depending on how Adam Yates performs in the final time trial. He's 33 seconds down on Quintana and I'm at 1:06. That's a decent gap but I think it's still in reach to get second overall. Quintana is a bit too far ahead but I think the podium is in reach," Dennis pointed out. "I've got to keep my head on for the next two days and then really show why I'm one of the better time triallists in the world."