After he lost time on Saturday's climb to Prato di Tivo and again on an uphill finish in Chieti on Sunday, it would have been reasonable to doubt Vincenzo Nibali's hopes of a repeat victory in the overall in Tirreno-Adriatico. However, the Astana rider never gave up hope. With one icy cold rain shower, a 27% grade, a wicked attack and some cooperative breakaway companions, Nibali turned his fortunes around and rode into the lead in Porto Sant'Elpidio, now 34 seconds ahead of Sky's Chris Froome.
"For sure it was great attack. I've done others, but as I but I've often not been that lucky," Nibali said after he escaped with eventual stage winner Peter Sagan and rival Joaquim Rodriguez to take the race lead. "Today went well and I was in good company in the final. Then I had great help from the team car. Martinelli studied the whole last lap and helped me a lot."
Unlike Froome, who felt he was over-geared for the torturous, triple 27% ascent, Nibali said the team studied the race book and prepared the bikes perfectly for the stage.
"It wasn't an easy stage. We raced well. The bikes were prepared for this stage and we didn't get anything wrong.
"We spoke about the 30% wall and so I knew it was hard. We were well prepared," he said. "The tactic in my head was that I'd go if I felt good on the last climb. I'd looked at it on the previous times up it. Then I felt better when the weather got worse. I felt better and better."
Nibali was only 14 seconds behind Froome on the "queen stage" to Prati di Tivo, but lost six more on the run in to Chieti, and thought his chances for the overall win were done.
"Prati di Tivo was good day for me and I went well and rode defensive before going on the attack. Yesterday I suffered more and didn't think I'd get it back. But today everything went really well," he said.
"To be honest, I started the season a bit slower because I got married at the end of the season, I had three weeks off for my honeymoon, joined the new team at a training camp and we went to Astana. I started slowly this year.
"I didn't think I'm could win but I realised at the a start that the stage was going to be difficult when 18 [riders] went away. I knew it was a lot and that on a hilly stage like that, there are far less tactics involved. if you're not good, you suffer a lot."
With the first of the major Classics coming this weekend, there was much speculation about whether today's stage was a preview of Milano-Sanremo, and if Nibali, Rodriguez and Sagan would make up the podium in La Classicissima. Nibali did his best to play down his chances, tipping Sagan for the win.
"I always tried to do well there but there's tough client called Peter Sagan, who is the favourite," Nibali said.
"It's difficult to drop him. He was strong even today… I'm not fast in sprint so I've got to do something earlier on the Cipressa or the Poggio.
"Some riders during their career never win one Milano-Sanremo. So one is important. Few have won more than once. It's an 'easy' race but it's so difficult…"