With rain lashing the riders at the finish of stage 14 of the Giro d'Italia and lighting crackling in the sky, Alberto Contador had little desire to hang around at the top of the Zoncolan and was grateful for a ride in a race organisation helicopter to his hotel.
Before disappearing he explained how he opted to defend and extend his overall race lead rather than try and win the stage. He now leads Nibali by 3:20, while stage winner Igor Anton (Euskaltel-Euskadi) moved up to third at 3:21.
“I feel very exhausted right now but it was incredible and very tough day," he said.
"My strategy was to focus just on the overall classification: I started the climb following Scarponi and then I marked Nibali. Vincenzo was very strong and rode a great stage. I've a lot of respect for him and that's why I tried to earn some time on him. He won't be easy to distance in the rest of the race and so the seconds might be
useful at the finish in Milan."
Some parts of the crowd whistled and jeered at Contador as he neared the finish, perhaps seeing his Saxo Bank-SunGard team as the ringleader of the protests that led to the Crostis climb being cut from the stage.
Enzo Cainero, who had done all the work to make the Crostis safe, pointed the finger at Contador but he cleverly avoided any polemic.
"I'm really happy about the Italian public support me. Nibali is riding on his home roads and so it’s normal that everybody is cheering for him. The public was extraordinary with me," he said.
"The stage would have been different with the Crostis. The best riders would have attacked and we'd have seen many more attacks."
Riis happy but still cautious
At the Saxo Bank-SunGard bus parked lower down the Zoncolan, staff and management congratulated each rider with a high five as they arrived after another successful day for the team.
Team manager Bjarne Riis rode on the motorbike that was allowed to follow the riders on the Zoncolan climb. He admitted he was worried about the driving of his motorbike pilot but was happy with the outcome of the stage. Yet he refused to get overly confident that the Giro was already won.
'We have to stay calm and keep the focus. There is still a long way to go. He's comfortable and he's good but he doesn't have a ten minutes lead," Riis said.
When told that Liquigas-Cannondale team manager Roberto Amadio had said the Italian team is still riding to win, he tried to call their bluff, hinting he would be happy to let them try and control the race during Sunday's 229km marathon stage to Gardeccia that includes five major climbs.
"I think they should. Why not?" he asked. "That's what they said from the beginning, so why shouldn't they continue like that."
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.