Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) provided what was very possibly the most impressive single performance of the 2013 Vuelta a España thus far on Thursday, with an attack which took the German from the moment the flag dropped in Guijuelo all the way to the finish at Caceres. If the stage were a handful of metres shorter then victory would have been his.
"I didn't win, but it was special all the same," Martin, deservedly given the ‘Most Combative Rider' prize for the day, recognised. "I realised that after finishing, when everybody wanted to talk to me. Although my feelings are bittersweet, I felt like a winner who was only lacking just a little bit of luck."
Ultimately seventh on the 175km stage, Martin said that there is a very narrow line between doing something brilliant and missing out completely. But on Thursday, in Martin's case, that line could hardly have been blurrier after being swept up by a charging peloton about 20 metres from the finish line.
"I felt great in front of the public when I got the ‘Most Combative Rider' award," Martin said, describing it later as a 'four-hour time trial.' "I had never done anything like that, such a long breakaway, I will remember it for a long time."
Martin said he had planned to attack, but that he had hoped that three or four riders would then come across. Marco Pinotti (BMC) did attempt to do exactly that, but failed to make contact. Martin then ploughed on regardless.
With an advantage at more than seven minutes at one point, in the closing kilometres it dropped to less than five seconds before slowly rising back up towards nearer 20. Every time the peloton accelerated, Martin opened up the throttle a little more. It was a fascinating battle, and one which the German resisted until the last possible moment.
"I went on fighting without really thinking about my chances, up until the last few kilometres I didn't think I could win. When there were ten kilometres left to go, I thought, 'right, time to give it a bit more power'. And it seemed like I might win.
"Really, though, I never thought I could get so close to the victory," Martin said. "But the public has really enjoyed watching it, I guess."