Chris Froome (Team Sky) ended his first week's racing in a mood of guarded optimism after he failed to make it into the top 10 of the last time trial stage at the Ruta del Sol, but nonetheless finished 10th overall.
Riding initially with intensified media scrutiny because of his AAF result from last year's Vuelta a España, in terms of racing, the Briton has had a week of mixed fortunes in Andalucia. He was up there with the other favourites on most of stage two crucial ascent to Allanadas, where he had won in 2015, before falling off the pace in the final kilometre.
Then on stage 4, Froome punctured at what the Briton pointed out was exactly the wrong moment, at the foot of an ultra-difficult final ascent to Alcala de los Gazules, effectively losing any chance of repeating his overall win from three years ago.
When it came to the Sunday time trial, Froome had said he would "empty the tank" on the last day of racing. He was as good as his word, hammering away on the long, gravel path climb that opened up the time trial, and then hitting speeds of over 70 kmh on the technical, patchily surfaced, descent to Barbate.
"Obviously I was coming here as my first race of the season, so I didn't really know where my form was at and I guess I know now, "Froome said even as the last few riders were completing the course. "This is all part of my build-up to the Giro, and I'm pretty happy with this as my starting point."
As for the time trial itself, Froome's 11th place was, he said, somewhat worse than he had hoped for, but no disaster.
"I was probably expecting a little bit better, obviously scenarios like yesterday [Saturday], I couldn't predict," he said. "That was probably the worst time to puncture, four kilometres from the finish on a hilltop finish like that, specially where positioning is so important coming into the bottom of that climb."
But as Froome - talking before the race was over - also pointed out, Team Sky have collectively had a very good week "with Wout in the leader's jersey [until stage 4 and a stage winner] and hopefully he'll finish it off with a good ride today.
"It'd be great if De La Cruz could get the stage win, too," Froome continued. "He was leading the last time I looked at the leader board there" - and indeed the Spaniard went on, a few minutes later, to claim his first victory with Team Sky. Poels had to settle for second overall, eight seconds down, but the Netherlands-born rider also came away with both the Combined jersey and the Points. Plus, as Froome pointed out, there had been reason earlier in the week for Team Sky to celebrate in the Volta ao Algarve, with Geraint Thomas and Michal Kwiatkowski dominating the course.
If Froome's final day of racing in the Ruta del Sol was low key, so, too, was the media attention. Less than half a dozen journalists were waiting outside the Team Sky team bus for his final comments after stage 5 - in stark comparison to the huge number awaiting his opening day's racing last Tuesday.
The crowds outside the Team Sky bus, though, remained as big, and as markedly supportive, as they had been throughout the Ruta del Sol, with many on Sunday waiting for the chance of an autograph or selfie long after the race was over. Next stop for Froome: Tirreno-Adriatico.
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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.