Ezequiel Mosquera may only 50 seconds away from the overall victory at the Vuelta a España but he hasn't been hiding his nerves during the past few days since the 46km individual time trial in Peñafiel put him in an unexpectedly favourable situation.
It's been the opposite for Joaquin Rodriguez who is almost four minutes down on race leader Vincenzo Nibali ahead of the crucial penultimate stage to Bola del Mundo.
"It's now a duel between Mosquera and myself," Nibali has repeated in the past few days. The Italian enjoyed a 12-second bonus thanks to the tricky finale in Toledo where splits in the bunch created gaps.
"There was so much tension in the last kilometre," Mosquera said on the finishing line. "When we reached the curves, I was side by side with Fränk Schleck and I almost fell when he punctured. I was at the limit. I couldn't do more.
"In this kind of uphill finish, Nibali has a better jump than me. My team-mate David Garcia Dapena has done his best to bring me back up but when we passed over the last bridge, I almost couldn't breathe anymore."
Schleck punctured inside the last three kilometres and was therefore given the same time as most of the members of the peloton by the judges, which was 14 seconds more than Nibali.
"Yesterday Federico Bahamontes came to the start and described today's stage finale to me," Nibali explained. "I'm grateful for that because it helped me. Knowing what it was like, I put myself at the front in the last ten kilometres with Daniele Bennati close to me all the time, so I felt safe.
I saw a gap was being created, so I went full gas. To gain 12 seconds in such a short distance is a big bonus before tomorrow. I feel much better with a 50-second margin, although I know Bola del Mundo is going to be hard."
Bola del Mundo is introduced as the Spanish equivalent of the legendary Mont Ventoux at the Tour de France. It's even higher and longer than the "giant of Provence". It's the first time the Vuelta has used the ascent of the region of Navacerrada, which lies near Madrid.
"In August, I went and reconnoitred the uphill finish of Bola del Mundo," said Carlos Sastre, who has a unique occasion to finally win a stage at the very end of the third of his three Grand Tours this year. "It's a very hard climb, and a long one as well (more than 20km).
"We'll start at sea level to reach 2,447 metres altitude and the average gradient is 12 percent. It's an ideal conclusion for the event."
"I'll have to attack," admitted Mosquera, although he's not the only climber with this kind of intention as Joaquin Rodriguez and Fränk Schleck, who sit in fourth and fifth position respectively just under four minutes down on the race leader, also haven't signed off on their Vuelta just yet.
"I hope for a good day and good legs," Mosquera continued. "I look serene but I'm not. I'm very nervous and I find it hard to sleep at night. If I lose the Vuelta, I hope it won't be for less than 12 seconds, otherwise what has happened today would be too bitter.
"I wish my nervousness to turn into something favourable when I'm climbing to try and win the Vuelta," added the 34-year-old who dreamt of the podium after finishing fifth, fifth and fourth in the only three Vueltas he has taken part in, all of them in the past three years.
"In the past few days, I've heard spectators yelling my name on the road sides. It makes me proud. I hope it'll help me find the strength I'm missing because of not sleeping well due to my stress. The Vuelta remains open. I'll give everything for the win," concluded the amiable Spaniard.
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
Try your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
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.