Chris Froome (Team Sky) pulled on the blue leader's jersey and sprayed the crowd with prosecco at Tirreno-Adriatico on Sunday but refused to say he had victory in the bag, knowing that Alberto Contador will try to attack on Monday's final hilly stage and then give his all in the Tuesday's final 9.2km time trial.
Froome now has a 20-second advantage on both Contador and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) but refused to fall into the trap of saying the race is won.
"One thing I learnt from racing against the likes of Contador is that it's really not over till it's over," he said in the post-race press conference.
"I'm expecting they'll throw everything at us tomorrow. Then in the time trial I'll have to give everything till we get over that finish line. 20 seconds is a good buffer but it's by no means over."
Super Team Sky
Froome and his loyal teammates again followed the Team Sky race plan, setting an infernal pace on the climb to crack Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) before Froome took over in the finale.
The team took control on the Passo Lanciano and then Dario Cataldo, Sergio Henao and Rigoberto Uran formed a black and blue train, seeming to flatten the steep gradient of the two final climbs and reduce the front group to just a select few overall contenders.
The pace cracked Peter Sagan (Cannondale Pro Cycling) on the first ramp, Kwiatkowski was forced into to the red on the climb to the finish and even Nibali was put on the ropes and would lose nine seconds. It was, yet again, perfect application of a carefully studied game plan.
"The team did a fantastic job again and if I'm wearing the jersey, I owe it to them," Froome said.
"It was a very hard finale today. We followed our plan and started riding a good tempo on the Passo Lanciano to put pressure on the leader’s jersey and we rode on the final two climbs to keep the pressure up, to see if we could get some distance on him and get the jersey.
"The guys exploded the race on the final climb to Chieti; it was every man for themselves in the finale. Rodriguez attacked but we knew it wasn't necessary to follow him because he wasn't an overall threat. The big objective was to get time on Kwiatkowski."
I'm still not at my best
While Froome and Team Sky was setting up overall success at Tirreno-Adriatico, another squad was celebrating victory at Paris-Nice with Richie Porte after he dominated the Col d'Èze time trial and became the first Australian to win the French stage race.
Froome is set to become the first Briton to win Tirreno-Adriatico and possibly complete a rare double dominance of the spring stage races.
Gazzetta dello Sport has dubbed Froome the keniano bianco – the white Kenyan. The sports daily is pleased to discover that Froome also speaks Italian pretty well after living in the bel paese during his time at Team Barloworld in 2008 and 2009. Back then, he was a talented but very green young rider. Now he is a race leader, team leader and Tour de France favourite.
"It's a little daunting to think I'm sitting here in this position and part of the team is doing so well in Paris-Nice, it's a really cool feeling," he said, insisting there is still a lot more to come in July.
"The way I see it, my goal is to be in my best condition for the Tour de France. I think I'm still a long way from that.
"Everything I do now is still building towards the Tour. If I can pick up a few results like here and in Oman, that's fantastic; it gives me a lot of confidence. But I'm not racing for the results right now. There are still some months before I really need to be in my optimum shape."
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