Bauke Mollema's stage 3 time trial performance may not have left him atop the general classification, but he knew he was in pole position at the Vuelta a San Juan, and he duly delivered on the Alto de Colorado to take the blue leader's jersey.
The Dutchman had just three seconds to make up on Ramunas Navardauskas on the final climb on Friday's stage 4 - a category 1 ascent that was not overly steep at an average of 4.4 per cent, but was 15km long and rose to an altitude of 2500 metres. Despite a spirited display from the Lithuanian, who dug deep, Mollema managed it comfortably with a fifth place finish on the day, 12 seconds behind stage winner Rui Costa.
"Of course I'm really happy to take the jersey – that was the goal today," said Mollema in his post-race press conference. "After the time trial I was in a good position, and I knew it was possible to take the lead.
"It was a hard stage, the start was really difficult, and there was a high pace all day. The hardest part was the altitude, going up to 2,500m – at this stage of the season that's really hard. It was tough towards the top, but luckily I did enough to take the jersey."
Mollema now leads the general classification by 14 seconds from Oscar Sevilla, with Colombian Rodolfo Torres a further two seconds back.
Two stages remain in the race, and they're both flat, meaning Mollema, barring accident or surprise, should be crowned the overall winner on Sunday.
"There are still two days to go. They're quite flat, but the differences are small, so it's going to be a hard fight these last days," Mollema said. "We have to control the next days, but there will also be sprint teams contributing. If the break is not dangerous, we will let it go, but other teams will pull."
Mollema has changed his programme for the 2017 season, with the arrival of Alberto Contador at Trek-Segafredo meaning he will head to the Giro d'Italia instead of the Tour de France.
With the need to hit peak form earlier in the year than he has in the past, the 30-year-old took confidence in the fact that he has laid strong foundations.
"It was my goal to do well here," he said. "Also because I've been training well the last two months.
"It's always nice to have good result start to the season – it's good for the confidence, good for the team. I think I can be satisfied with my level so far. There are other important races coming up before the Giro, but for now, I can be very happy with where I am."
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Deputy Editor - Europe. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2021 he has been Deputy Editor - Europe, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.
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