Vincenzo Nibali refused to be disappointed with his performance at the Giro d'Italia after trying to the very end of the final mountain stage to crack race leader Richard Carapaz and his protective Movistar team.
Nibali seemed to suffer on the mid-stage Passo Manghen and so was unable to make a long-range attack and repeat the 2018 exploit of Chris Froome. But he fought on and managed to distance Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) on the final climb to Croce d'Aune-Monte Avena, gaining 50 seconds on the Slovenian to safeguard his second place overall.
With just Sunday's 17km time trial around Verona left to race, Nibali is 1:54 behind Carapaz in the general classification, with Roglic now at 3:16. Mikel Landa (Movistar) moved into third at 2:53 but has historically done poorly in time trials. Nibali should be able to hold off Landa and Roglic to finish on the second step of the final podium.
"I tried to the very end but it was difficult to do much with Carapaz and Landa so strong. The Movistar team was strong too, they had four riders on the front in the finale and there's not much you can do when a team is so strong," Nibali admitted.
"The last climb was hard and came after a long, hard day out and a hard Giro, so one attack could have made a big difference. I tried something but Carapaz responded and so deserved to keep the maglia rosa."
"Now we'll see what happens in the final time trial. The 17km are tough but I think everyone will feel the efforts of today. The time trial is the last day of fighting. I was hoping to win the Giro but that won't happen now, Carapaz has it 90 per cent won."
Nibali made a point of congratulating Carapaz and Landa beyond the finish line after stage 20. There was a tone of disappointment in his voice but he sportingly accepted defeat. He has won four Grand Tours and is set to secure the 11th podium spot of his career.
"I congratulated Carapaz at the finish because I respect his performance," Nibali said.
"I'm not really disappointed with my Giro. I'm on the podium if everything goes well in the time trial. But I've no real regrets, there's nothing much else I could do.
"I raced as well as I could. It's never easy to win but I tried lots of times, I've no regrets. I'm happy with my Giro, I fought all the way. I made some mistakes but we'll all human, who hasn't made mistakes in life?"
Nibali regrets allowing Carapaz to gain 1:19 on the stage to Ceresole Reale and then 1:54 in Courmayeur but there was a reason for his decision to mark Roglic closely and allow Carapaz his freedom.
"Who really thought he could win the Giro at the start? Carapaz raced smart and was also a bit of a surprise," Nibali suggested.
"People said we let him get away but that's not the full picture. While all the big-name riders marked each other, he was quick-thinking and went on the attack at the right moment and in the right way. He had the legs to get away and gained time."
Nibali will turn 35 in November and would have been the oldest ever winner of the Giro d'Italia. He is widely expected to ink a two-year deal with Trek-Segafredo for 2020-2021 and is convinced he has the commitment to stay competitive against younger generations
"Carapaz told me that he watched me on television and admired me when he was young and still to turn professional, so that did make me feel a little old… But it's not a problem," Nibali said with a smile.
"34 can be a limit in some ways but Froome is just six months younger than me and he's still going strong. We're very professional in how we approach our training, racing and our lives. That makes a difference."