Chris Froome (Great Britain) got one thing right when he picked Tom Dumoulin (Netherlands) as the favourite for the men's time trial at the UCI Road World Championships in Bergen but that was scant consolation for the Tour de France winner after the Dutchman trounced the opposition and almost caught Froome – who claimed bronze – on the final climb.
Froome, who came into the event on the back of winning the Tour de France and Vuelta a España, set off 90 seconds ahead of Dumoulin but even in the early stages of the 31km test it was clear that the pair were operating on different levels.
Dumoulin was leading after 11 kilometres and never looked back, while Froome held back and gradually picked his way through the field – rising from 10th at the first check to third at the top of the final climb. In truth, however, Froome never looked threatening to the flying Dutchman and by the line 1:21 separated the pair, with Primoz Roglic nestled between them at 57 seconds back to take silver.
Froome first post-race question was of course over Dumoulin's performance and dramatic ride and the British rider was magnanimous in defeat.
"He's been strong for a couple of years now and riding at the top level for a while. It's not a surprise. He's had a fantastic season, winning the Giro and then focusing on this Worlds title. He was by far the strongest man on the road today. There's no questioning that," the Tour winner said.
"Coming to the last kilometre, obviously I was full gas there and there wasn't much time to look around but I could hear the crowd cheering behind me. At one point I glanced over my shoulder and I could see the orange jersey coming up behind me and he was flying. That didn't change anything for me. I gave it everything."
Froome leaves the Worlds with two bronzes in his back pocket after Team Sky's opening performance in the team time trial. It marks his most successful return at a World Championships and he admitted that coming to Bergen and wining a haul of two bronzes was better than watching from his sofa in Monaco with a sense of what might have been.
"I'm glad that I was here and not sitting at home and watching the race on TV, and wondering where I might have been. I was here, gave it everything that I had and I'm happy with the effort that I put in today."
"I've never medalled in the World Championships before. It's an amazing end to what's been an unforgettable season for me. Obviously the Tour de France and the Vuelta were the highlight for me this year. Coming here on the back of that, and to give it everything I had, with whatever was left in the legs, I'm grateful to have got to the end of the season. I'm looking forward to spending some time with the family now."
Froome then excused himself from the press conference, his final race of this season a race against the clock to catch a flight back to Nice to see his family.
Earlier in evening, as he made his way through the mixed-zone at the top of Mont Fløyen, he paid tribute to Dumoulin's performance.
"The conditions were the same for Tom Dumoulin behind me, so massive congratulations to Tom. He was the stronger man out there today. I've got no regrets. I gave it everything I had and I'd much rather be here and won the bronze medal than be at home wondering 'what if'? So the question's been answered and it's time to put my feet up now."
There was no time to ask Froome about the potential battle he and Dumoulin could act out in next year's Tour de France. Those questions will have to wait for another day but it will be interesting to see who the four-time Tour winner marks as the favourite that time around. The 2018 Tour is fast becoming a mouth-watering proposition.