When Egan Bernal (Team Sky) launched a long, driving attack with five kilometres to go to the summit finish of Vallter 2000 at the Volta a Catalunya on Wednesday, it briefly looked as if he had conquered the race in a single, knockout blow.
However, Nairo Quintana (Movistar) managed to shadow his compatriot closely and refused to help with the pace, meaning the arrival of Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) and Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates) considerably reduced the effect of Bernal's attack.
Bernal could not come around Yates at the finish, taking second behind the Briton to move into third overall, where he now trails the Mitchelton-Scott racer by just three seconds. Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) hung onto the race lead but is expected to lose it during today's second stage in the mountains.
Last year at La Molina – Thursday's summit finish to stage 4 – Bernal moved into second overall behind Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) with second place on the stage, and the Colombian believes that, this time around, there is everything to play for once again.
"I tried very hard. I don't know if it was really good or not so good, but the important thing is to try," said Bernal, who has claimed the top spot in the best young rider's classification as well as lying third overall, said afterwards.
Bernal hinted that he had paid for his inexperience in what was a complicated five-way battle, saying, "You learn from days like these."
On the plus side, he said: "I felt good. We managed to get some time on Valverde, who's a tough rival, so that's important. The finale went well, too, but there were a lot of riders there: Nairo, Yates, Lopez, Martin, so it was never going to be easy to win.
"Obviously it's a pity, as you feel like you're missing out on something because you couldn't get the stage," he continued. "But I tried, and it was nice to be able to put on a good show with lots of attacks, because that's what people like."
Having surged up to third overall and looking very much like the strongest climber on the ascent to Vallter 2000, the question now is whether Bernal can actually move into the top spot on a summit finish like La Molina on Thursday, which is not nearly as difficult as the stage 3 finish.
Assuming De Gendt loses the race lead – as even the Belgian himself was predicting – Yates could prove a difficult rival, Bernal warned. But he remained determined to give it a go.
"I'm not sure if I can get past him. He's another great climber," Bernal said of the Briton.
"However, I'll try. Last year I did well on the stage 4 finish, where only Valverde could beat me, so I know that it's a climb where, if you want to do damage, you can."
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.
Thank you for signing up to Cycling News. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.