Richie Porte (Team Sky) took control of the Giro del Trentino with a solo attack on the climb to the finish in Brentonico, making it clear to his rivals in the four-day race and his wider rivals for the Giro d'Italia that he is on the best form of his career and still on a roll after his wins at Paris-Nice and the Volta a Catalunya.
Team Sky forced the key selection on the 12km-long Passo Santa Barbara climb and then Porte took off alone, finishing 16 seconds ahead of Mikel Landa (Astana) and 32 seconds ahead of Damiano Cunego (Nippo-Vini Fantini), who brought home the remains of the chase group.
Porte seemed on a different level but denied winning had been easy or that he had peaked too early with the Giro d'Italia still two weeks away.
"If only it was easy…" he said in the post-stage press conference. "It's just nice to come here and win a stage like today. It was a hard stage. To be honest I didn't feel fantastic, I only came down from altitude on Friday and so to win with the legs I had today was a massive confidence boost. The effort the team put inspired me and was really the cherry on the icing on the cake.
"Our strong young American Ian Boswell stepped up and was fantastic. He attacked at the beginning of the big climb and forced the selection. After that it was the Kosta [Kanstantsin Siutsou] show. He rode the whole climb. When we talked on bus this morning about the stage, we wanted four guys from the team at the bottom of the last climb. We had that and it set me up for win. Having numbers was the key to victory. That set me up for my attack."
Porte made an instinctive attack with two kilometres to go, looking to distance some key overall rivals.
"When I saw that [Domenico] Pozzovivo wasn't there, I thought it was the right moment to attack but in truth I should have waited longer," he revealed. "Landa is in fantastic form, we saw that in Pais Vasco, he's impressive. To have him chasing me wasn't ideal and I maybe misjudged that. But to win the stage is a great test of my form and I'm happy with how it went.
"It's nice to win races. The best thing about going up to train at altitude is to come down and win hard races like this. As far as favourites go for the Giro d'Italia, of course, there's [Rigoberto] Uran, [Fabio] Aru and [Alberto] Contador. I've raced them and beaten them this season and so my confidence is good. But I know the Giro will be a little bit harder… But I'm happy with team and with my form at the moment.
"I'm happy to put my faith in Tim Kerrison, who helped lead Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome to their Tour de France victories. It was said they all peaked too early too. I think I'm in better condition than at Catalunya and Paris-Nice. It's just over two weeks to the Giro. I can only get better, fingers crossed."
Porte looks slimmer than ever and confirmed to Cyclingnews that he has lost at least five kilograms compared to a year ago. He revealed that the secret to his diet is less alcohol and lots of support from his fiancée.
"Drinking less beer, less wine and having a good lady behind me is a big difference," Porte said.
"You've got to be serious if you want to do well and I paid a lot more attention to my diet this year. After last season I worked on it a lot and don’t see it as a sacrifice, I needed to do it. And now I prefer to win a race than drink a beer. I think I’ve turned a corner."