Roman Kreuziger (Astana) continued his strong start to the Giro d'Italia with an intelligent performance on the slopes of Mount Etna, but he admitted after the stage that it would have been dangerous to follow Alberto Contador's explosive rhythm in the finale.
The Czech fought toe-to-toe with the likes of Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) and moved into the white jersey of best young rider, but thought better of attempting to match Contador when he accelerated 6km from the line. Speaking to Cyclingnews before making his way down the volcano, Kreuziger marvelled at Contador's show of force.
"It was impressive, I saw the size of the gear he was using when he went," Kreuziger said. "I turned around and I still had two teammates, and I didn't even try to go after him because I didn't feel I could."
Michele Scarponi (Lampre-ISD) managed to make it across to Contador's wheel, but he would soon crack under the strain of the Spaniard's relentless pace. Kreuziger believed that Scarponi's struggle was vindication of his decision to follow his own tempo.
"I was worried that I would have destroyed myself and I wouldn't have made it to the top," he admitted. "But Scarponi went after him and we saw how he ended up."
With Contador seemingly in a stratum all of his own up front, Kreuziger focused his attentions on the race within a race behind, and his toughest moment on Etna would come just before the finish.
"I suffered more when Nibali went with a kilometre to go, it was hard to go and get him," Kreuziger explained. "Then I closed down Arroyo, but unfortunately in the sprint, I wasn't able to take any bonus seconds."
The new pink jersey Contador was adamant afterwards that the Giro was not over, but the sight of his overall rivals marking one another behind might have suggested otherwise. Kreuziger was reluctant to resign himself to defeat but acknowledged that Contador is on top of his game.
"We knew already at the start that Alberto was arriving here very strongly," Kreuziger admitted, before sounding an optimistic note. "But there's no need to be down about that because it's a very tough Giro and anything could happen still."
After stalling slightly in his final year or so at Liquigas-Cannondale, there has been discernible steel about Kreuziger's resolve in his debut season at Astana. Surveying the carnage on Etna after Contador's eruption, Kreuziger was quietly pleased that this harsh Giro was already beginning to separate the wheat from the chaff.
"Today was a very tough stage and I'm glad that we went that hard because that way we were at least able to see who's up there and who isn't," Kreuziger said. "For my morale coming into the rest day, it was important that I was there.
"The Giro started today, and it's from now on that it starts getting hard."
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Barry Ryan is European Editor at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation (opens in new tab), published by Gill Books.