Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) sat in the so-called hot seat in the finish area of the Giro d'Italia's mountain time trial for almost an hour as the provisional winner of the 20.4km race of truth, until last man off and race leader Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) blasted home to take his first stage win in the pink jersey.
Nibali beat Sanchez by 58 seconds, turfing the Spaniard from the warmth of the podium area and forcing him to accept second place.
"It's a pity because I was starting to think I'd got it but it was mission impossible today. Nibali deserves his win, he's done everything perfectly and is racing formidably," Sanchez said.
"When you're in such good shape like he is, you can’t do anything. I expected the times to change a lot with the wetter conditions, and I didn’t think my time would hold out for so long. But I'm happy with my ride."
Second was finally a result to smile about for Sanchez. He was one of the five big-name favourites for overall success when the Giro started in sunny Naples on May 4. As the final mountain stages in the snow-covered Dolomites loom, he is only tenth overall, 9:34 down on Nibali.
He has rarely been in the thick of the action, losing time in the team time trial and on the key mountain stages. He was fourth in the cold at Bardonecchia but has been forced to ride on the defensive.
Boosted by his time trial performance, Sanchez is now hoping to snatch a stage victory in the final two mountain stages. He's acknowledged as the best descender in the peloton but will need to find his climbing legs for the mountain finishes in Val Martello on Friday and then at Tre Cime di Lavaredo on Saturday.
"My condition’s been improving, but Nibali’s on another planet. Nibali’s been the rider most in form in the Giro d’Italia," he said.
"I’ll try for another win, although there’s going to be a lot of snow and we have to think about the riders' safety too."