Chris Froome was forced to ride on the defensive for much of the Giro d'Italia after his crash before the opening time trial in Jerusalem, but the Team Sky leader appeared to be back to his Grand Tour best on the fast climb to Prato Nevoso at the end of stage 18, gaining 28 seconds on race leader Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott).
Froome is targeting Domenico Pozzovivo's podium place as his first goal, and the Italian for Bahrain-Merida is only 39 seconds ahead of him. But Froome appears to have found the inspiration for a possible audacious all-out attack on the maglia rosa in the final two mountain stages.
"If only I hadn't crashed in Jerusalem," Froome told Italian television after refusing to stop at the finish, again preferring to descend to the Team Sky bus and warm down before sharing his thoughts.
"I'm feeling better every day, but I need to pull back time. It was a good day for me, but we've only done the first of thee consecutive mountain stages which will be very hard."
Froome revealed that his late attack was premeditated. He sent teammate Wout Poel up the final climb to be there to help him in the finale. After going with Dumoulin's first surge with two kilometres remaining, Froome then jumped around his rivals and surged away himself, helping to distance Yates. He was perhaps hoping to gain time on Pozzovivo. Little did he know that Yates would suffer and be unable to stay with them.
"I had no idea he was on the limit there. Only when I accelerated did I turn around to see Pozzovivo and Dumoulin with me and not Simon," Froome explained.
"The attack was something we decided on the last climb. Wout was feeling good, so we agreed that he'd push on and see what would happen in the last few kilometres if I could get across to him. It worked out really well."
Froome is slightly cautious about the two final multi-climb mountain stages to Bardonecchia and Cervinia, but he is tempted go all-in and perhaps sacrifice his fourth place or even a podium spot for a shot at victory. His form as been as up and down as the two stage profiles, but like everyone in the peloton, Froome has a sense that Yates is no longer unbeatable.
"For the first time we've seen that Yates wasn't at 100 per cent. It's a surprise because he was really strong so far. Now after what happened today, everyone will think about attacking him, so anything and everything can happen tomorrow and the day after tomorrow," Froome said with genuine enthusiasm.
"We've got the Colle delle Finestre, on dirt roads, there’s room to invent something," he said, hinting that he may risk a long-range attack on the dirt-road climb that comes 94km from the finish of the 184km stage in an attempt to at least isolate Yates.
"The race is still on," Froome made clear.