Chris Froome (Team Sky) was on the rivet on stage 3 of Tirreno-Adriatico but had enough in the tank to finish 12th on the finishing climb to Trevi. The result enhanced his chances of winning the overall title and leaves Team Sky with three riders inside the top five ahead of Saturday's queen stage.
The British rider – who is racing while his salbutamol case rumbles on – sits third overall, after his teammate Geraint Thomas moved into the race lead.
Team Sky took control of the race on stage 3 and set the pace on the first ascent through Trevi. While a number of GC rivals were down to just two or three support riders ahead of the final ascent, Team Sky still had their full quota of seven as the bunch hit the lower slopes of the final test.
Primoz Roglic jumped clear to win the stage with Adam Yates and Tiesj Benoot rounding out the top three. Froome appeared to be in trouble on the final climb and briefly lost contact with his teammates on the lower slopes of the 1.5km ascent. He surged back in the closing few hundred metres, and finished in the same group as Mikel Landa, Rigoberto Uran and Romain Bardet – 10 seconds down on Roglic.
"I didn't know what to expect today," he told reporters after warming down at the finish. "I was full gas. The race was on at that point and there were gaps opening up all over the place."
Saturday's queen stage culminates with a major climb to Sarnano Sottotetto. It is the hardest stage of the race and ends with the 14.2km ascent to an altitude of 1,335 metres.
"Today was such a steep kick to the finish but that's a fantastic result for us. We have Geraint in the lead, myself in third and Kwiatkowski in fifth overall. I think that gives us a really strong position for the queen stage. We have options. We'll sit down tonight and see what we're up against and then come up with a plan."
Froome acknowledged that he is not yet at his peak. He is targeting a Giro d'Italia and Tour de France double this year and remains focused on racing despite the uncertainty over his immediate future and the damning report that came out last week from the DCMS.
"It's still early days for me and it's part of my build up now. I'm not at my best, definitely not at my best right now but I'm on my way there. This is a good progression for me.
"It's good for me to be back on Italian roads, especially with the Giro in mind. It's definitely a different style of racing on these roads and different surfaces. It's something for me to adapt to."
Post-Tirreno-Adriatico, Froome will head back to altitude for a stint of training.
"I head up to Tenerife after this and do another block up there before racing the Tour of the Alps. Then I might do another little camp then before the Giro."
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