The ride of the day at the Critérium du Dauphinè stage 4 time trial must go to Richie Porte (BMC), but the other standout performance was perhaps that of Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), third on the stage – 24 seconds down on Porte but 17 seconds quicker than Chris Froome (Team Sky).
Valverde has never been a slouch against the clock but, even at the age of 37, he has made improvements this year, with strong time trials key contributors to his overall victories at the Ruta del Sol and Vuelta al País Vasco.
On the 23.5km Dauphiné time trial, a lightly undulating course with plenty of descending false flats, Valverde clocked 28:31, with only the world champion Tony Martin separating him from Porte.
"I'm pretty happy with that. It was a demanding time trial. It confirms once again my time trialling is strong – all the time trials that I've done this year have been very good," Valverde told Cyclingnews afterwards as he sat into a Movistar team car.
The Spaniard knew he'd put in a strong ride but it was only when the final times were confirmed to him – "You put 17 seconds into Froome!" cried an excited soigneur – that a smile broke out.
"To be ahead of someone like Froome is pretty big, that's for sure," he said. "Froome has always been better than me in time trials, and not just by 30 seconds, but more like a minute or more, so to be above him here, it's a great outcome for me."
Valverde's 2017 campaign thus far has simply been phenomenal, with stage race and classics success alike. He has won all three stage races he's entered – Ruta del Sol, País Vasco, and the Volta a Catalunya – and has added a fourth Flèche Wallonne and fifth Liège-Bastogne-Liège to his palmares.
He took a break after Liège before returning at the Dauphiné for what represents the second part of his season, which will see him support Nairo Quintana at the Tour de France before targeting the Vuelta a España and the World Championships. Valverde is a rider who packs his seasons full of race days and, even after Liège, he only took a week off before heading to Sierra Nevada for an altitude camp lasting 25 days.
Valverde said at the start of the Dauphiné that the week was about regaining the rhythm of competition, but it doesn't seem to have left him, and he has seemingly allayed any suggestion that he's simply easing himself back into the season.
"The truth is that the legs responded pretty well today," he said. "The first day I noted the lack of racing, but with the second and third days I was back into the flow of things, and today I've managed to pull out a pretty decent time trial."
Porte has put himself firmly in the driving seat at this Dauphiné, but Valverde is now a serious contender for at least a spot on the podium. After some reassuring signs in what is often referred to as the 'race of truth', he's not taking anything for granted ahead of the trio of back-to-back mountain stages that provide the climax to the race from Friday.
"I'm happy with today, but now come the hard stages," he said. "We have to see how the rivals are climbing, and how I'm climbing after the training I've done at altitude."