Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and Ivan Basso (Cannondale) showed they are on track to be overall contenders at the Vuelta a Espana with aggressive performances during Sunday's decisive mountain finish at the Vuelta a Burgos.
Nairo Quintana (Movistar) may have jumped away in the final kilometre of the steep Lagunas de Neila climb to snatch overall success but the two Italians and former Liquigas teammates were just behind him and secured third and fourth overall.
Nibali's lack of form at the Tour of Poland set alarm bells ringing in Italy because he is expected to lead Italy at the world championships in Tuscany at the end of September. However he seems to have pulled things around as the final countdown to the Vuelta a Espana begins.
The final Grand Tour of the season begins in Galicia, north of Portugal, on August 24, in just 12 days time.
"To be honest I was always confident about my form being good and I'm confident now because I can feel I'm getting better and better," Nibali told Gazzetta dello Sport, which had been despairing about the form of Italy's biggest-name rider.
"I drove the break and Ivan gave me a hand, while Quintana sat on the wheels. Arroyo got back on in a second moment that changed things. I paid for efforts in the last 600 metres and when Quintana attacked, preferring to go at my own pace. I'm happy with how I rode."
Basso studies the Angliru
Nibali headed home to Lugano in Switzerland after Burgos but Basso has stayed on in Spain today to study the Alto Naranco climb and famously steep Alto de l'Angliru that features on stage 20 and will likely decide this year's Vuelta.
"My result proves that I'm on the right road, at the Vuelta I want to do something special. I can feel I've got it in my legs to do it," Basso said.
"The final climb at Burgos had a lot of changes in gradient and so me and Vincenzo tried to work together. It didn’t work out but we both rode well."
Basso will lead the Cannondale team at the Vuelta a Espana, while Peter Sagan leads another squad at the USA Procycling Challenge and the Canadian races.
Nibali leads the Astana team with the Kazakhstani team still to decide if Jakob Fuglsang and Jani Brajkovic will also ride.
The Vuelta starts on August 24 with a 27.4km team time trial.
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