Another day, another stage of the Volta a Catalunya, and another warm-down behind the finish line for Nairo Quintana (Movistar) as the Colombian star reflected on his second near-miss in the Pyrenees in 24 hours.
Quintana had ridden consistently on the uneven ascent of La Molina, staying up there with the other favourites. But unlike at Vallter 2000 when he had been able to follow Egan Bernal's main attack, on this occasion, when Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana Pro Team) blasted away, Quintana was unable to follow.
As had happened at Vallter 2000, the Colombian's teammate Alejandro Valverde struggled again to stay in contact with the main group and on this occasion another Movistar rider, former Paris-Nice winner Marc Soler, had battled bravely to stay clear in the breakaway and then try - and fail - to stay with Lopez when the Colombian powered past.
Meanwhile, Quintana crossed the line in sixth place just behind Egan Bernal (Team Sky) and Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), a result that has enabled him to gain one spot on GC, to fourth overall.
Although just eight seconds behind Bernal, the provisional podium remains just outside Quintana's grasp - at least for now.
At the end of a tough stage, which saw seven riders abandon and an eighth, William Clarke (Trek-Segafredo), finish outside the time limit, Quintana told reporters that the final ascent to La Molina "was at full gas, we were all really going for it. I was trying to stay with the last few attacks and finally, I could do it."
According to Quintana the spectacular success of Lopez's attack was partly due to the Astana rider extracting the maximum advantage possible from a moment when there was a lull in the battle, with the rest of the top GC contenders watching each other overly closely - and then getting caught out as a result.
"López attacked very hard, he was going really fast and he made full use that point when the rest of us were all looking at each other and it worked out very well for him."
As for the overall battle, Quintana, a winner of the Volta a Catalunya in 2016 and a runner-up in 2018, did not throw in the towel, although he admitted it would be tough to try and oust his compatriot from the GC lead.
"It's very complicated. The mountain stages are all over and we'll have to see what happens now. Maybe if there's a bit of a cross-wind on the sixth stage…" - when the race reaches the Mediterranean coastline - Quintana concluded. But the Colombian, well aware that this race has often been won and lost by a handful of seconds, did not sound overly optimistic.
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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.
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