Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) crossed the finish line virtually side by side at the end of the first mountain stage of the Giro del Trentino on Wednesday, both happy with how they handled the 14km climb and that they managed to distance the key rivals they will face in the Giro d'Italia.
While some riders were unable to handle the fast pace on the seven percent climb, both Wiggins and Nibali looked comfortable, rarely going very deep or seeming to suffer.
Wiggins was happy to feel better after his saddle sore problems and antibiotics, while Nibali took pride in the way his Astana team had performed on the climb.
Nibali finished third on the 224km stage, 19 seconds behind winner Kanstantin Siutsou (Team Sky) and 15 seconds behind Mauro Santambrogio (Vini Fantini-Selle Italia).
Four Astana riders finished in the top-25: talented neo-pro Fabio Aru and Alexsandr Dyachenko were both within a minute of Nibali after going on the attack with him in the final three kilometres, while Fredrik Kessiakoff and Valerio Agnoli were a little further back after doing a lot of work on the final climb.
"It was important to understand how we're going as a team, and I think we rode well, we went hard," Nibali said before descending off the mountain to the team bus.
"We saw that Wiggins is strong but that's no surprise. I saw that he was looking good, and I think he saw that I'm looking good, too."
Astana on the attack
Nibali attacked with three kilometre to go, splitting the front group and forcing Wiggins to chase.
"I was looking for the stage win but Siutsou went well today. We tried to go after him but he was too strong," he said.
"I made several attacks and did some long turns on the front but Bradley didn't respond to my attacks, he rode at his own pace. He controlled things well because he had a teammate up the road."
Team Sky perhaps came out on top after winning the stage but Nibali is not worried about these early exchanges and mind games.
"I think my form is good, I'm happy, and I'm tranquillo," he said.
"Today was a tough stage after a split day yesterday and an early wake up this morning. Some riders were tired, but I'm sure we'll be ok for tomorrow and Friday's stage."