Astana leader Jakob Fuglsang delivered a pithy six-word analysis of stage 5 of the Giro d'Italia as "a long day for almost nothing", as the GC challenger failed to make any significant gains on the mammoth 225-kilometre trek through the mountains of Calabria.
Standing under an umbrella to talk to reporters as the rain teemed down and the light began to fade in the late afternoon at the finish, the Danish veteran argued that there had been no real opportunities to make a difference on the relentless, but – barring a tough middle section – overwhelmingly benign slopes of the mammoth Valico di Montescuro climb.
After the main group of contenders completed the ascent of the 24.9-kilometre Valico di Montescuro and then dropped down into the mountain resort of Camigliatello Silano to cross the line as a single unit of 22 riders, Fuglsang found he had gained two spots, climbing from ninth to seventh on GC, at 1:19 on race leader, Deceuninck-QuickStep youngster João Almeida.
But that gain was only thanks to UAE Team Emirates' Brandon McNulty and winner on Etna, EF Pro Cycling's Jonathan Caicedo, neither considered pre-race favourites, shipping time and sliding out of the top 10. And as Fugslang also pointed out, another top contender, Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), remains very much in the fight despite struggling slightly on stage 5.
"At least for me I had hoped for a little bit more, and that the climb would be harder," said Fuglsang. He had set his Astana team to work close to the summit after some lengthy pace-setting by Trek-Segafredo and Bora-Hansgrohe, but to equally little avail.
"But that final climb was not so hard, it was a long day for almost nothing."
Questioned about Yates, the Dane argued that he had not been ruled out of GC contention, given the Briton had completed the stage with the main group of favourites.
"I don't know what's going on, but he's trying to stay there, so it's not over yet. He was with us at the finish so he's not so far off on GC either," Fuglsang reflected.
Barring major surprises, the next three days should see the GC battle take something of a back seat, with rolling stages on Thursday and Saturday likely to culminate in successful breakaways. A flat stage with 'bunch sprint' written all over it takes place on Friday in the south-easterly port of Brindisi.
Like the rest of the contenders, Fuglsang's next opportunity to make a difference comes on Sunday at Rocarasso, where, on the Giro's previous ascent of the Abruzzo climb back in 2016 the Dane placed second, and Trek-Segafredo leader Vincenzo Nibali lost time, too.
After Thursday's disappointment and with history on his side, then, Fuglsang is hardly likely to let his next opportunity to make an impact on GC pass him by.
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