Gianni Moscon was hoping to end Italy's ten-year dry spell in the men's World Championships and was hoping to win in his new adopted home of Innsbruck but when the 28 per cent gradient of Höttinger Höll began to bite, he lacked the power to stay with Alejandro Valverde, Romain Bardet and Michael Woods, and the chance of a medal slipped away.
"I was just missing that little bit, just an extra couple of strong pedal strokes, but I was cooked. There was nothing I could do," Moscon said post-race after finishing fifth behind the medal winners and Tom Dumoulin (Netherlands), who caught then dropped him, and bridged across to Valverde, Bardet and Woods only to finish fourth in the sprint.
"I just didn't have the legs on the last part of the climb and they went away from me. I was right on my limit. I tried to survive after bring gapped and when Tom Dumoulin came up to me, I couldn't even hold his wheel. I was done," Moscon explained, wracked by regret and disappointment as he talked.
"I tried to recover on the descent and gave it everything on the flat hoping they would perhaps look at each other. I saw the cars and tried to come back up to them but I couldn't make it."
Moscon was chasing victory on his home roads after moving to Innsbruck from Monte Carlo in recent months. He originates from the mountainous region of western Trentino near Val di Non, not far over the border in Italy, and was extra motivated to perform at home.
"This is going to be my hometown for the next few years, I love it here and love Austria. It would have been nice to get a medal in my hometown but what more could I do? That's life," he said.
"When you finish fifth, you don't have much to celebrate. The Italian team did a good job, I gave everything…"
With Vincenzo Nibali still struggling after fracturing a vertebra in a crash caused by a spectator at the Tour de France, Moscon had been given team leader status by Italian coach Davide Cassani, despite being suspended from racing for five weeks for striking out at Elie Gesbert (Fortuneo-Oscaro) on stage 15 of the Tour de France. Moscon spent several weeks training hard on the Stelvio during his ban and showed he was on form with victory at the Giro della Toscana on his return to racing last week.
As expected, Vincenzo Nibali struggled on the last 7.9km climb on the 23km circuit. Domenico Pozzovivo was in the select group that started the Höttinger Höll behind Michael Valgren but struggled and finished 21st at 1:21.
Moscon is a controversial figure but has been protected and supported in Italy because of his potential. His rap sheet includes a racist incident with France's Kevin Reza, accusations that he caused Sebastian Reichenbach to crash during last year's Tre Valli Varesine, and disqualification for receiving a tow from the Italian team car at last year's world championships in Norway.
He has been on his best behaviour in recent weeks but regretted missing the Vuelta a Espana due to his five-week ban.
"The Spanish Grand Tour would have been a great way to prepare but after more than six hours of racing, it's always hard to feel good," he suggested.
"I was there but then just lacked that little bit. It happens. I can pick things up from this ride even if Italy deserved a lot more. Who knows, perhaps I can do something in the final important races of the season. That's my next goal."