For the second day running, Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) attempted to light a bonfire under the Vuelta a España's standings and although his attacks proved equally unsuccessful, one positive result is that his reputation as an aggressive, non-conformist racer is now even stronger than it was 24 hours ago.
A self-confessed admirer of Alberto Contador, if Wednesday's attack at 60 kilometres to go was reminiscent of Chris Froome's long-distance move in the 2018 Giro d'Italia, Thursday's punchy, late surges by Bernal had something of the spirit of Contador's repeated all-or-nothing attacks of the latter part of his career.
Brought back into line by Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) on both occasions, Bernal said afterwards he had attacked to "resolve my doubts about what could have happened. You never know if you don't try."
"I wanted to do that, to have a go. It must have been fun to watch on TV," he reflected.
Responding to one reporter's suggestion that he was winning over Spanish hearts with his courageous attacks, Bernal said goodhumouredly, "yes, but isn't there a saying that the cemetery is full of brave guys?
"But at least I've had fun here and I'll leave here with some good memories. It's maybe not the great result I wanted, but it's probably the Grand Tour where I've most enjoyed myself in the race."
Just as on Wednesday, after his long-distance move had fizzled out, Bernal once again had enough fuel left in the tank to remain with the GC favourites on Thursday. He even followed Roglič and Enric Mas (Movistar) up the road at the end, only shedding a few seconds to the two best-placed GC riders and moved up a spot to fifth overall in the process.
Bernal said afterwards that he had a tough time throughout the entire stage, and he had been suffering from the first climb of the day. "I don't know how I got here at the end," he concluded.
"It was a very hard pace, and at that pace, it's almost impossible to attack. That's physics, that mathematics, the numbers just don't add up. I did have to try, though, on pure guts alone."
If there wasn't a good result for him personally, he added, he could celebrate a victory for his country. "Miguel Angel [Lopez-Movistar] won, too, and I'm pleased for him, he put on a great show for us Colombians."
Repeating how deep he had had to go in order to be up there at the finale, Bernal said he had pushed himself because, "it was basically the last big climb of the race, and I didn't want to go home with that doubt in my mind about what could have happened if I didn't try. Now I can go home happy knowing I gave it everything."
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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