Nairo Quintana (Movistar) was almost knocked over by the media scrum that surrounded Peter Sagan in the media mixed zone after the finish of stage 5 of Tirreno-Adriatico, but the Colombian kept his cool and stayed safe, just has he did during the 210km stage through the rolling hills between Rieti and Fermo.
The view of the Adriatic coast from Fermo was a reassuring sight for the Colombian and his Movistar team. With Monday's stage expected to end in a sprint and the final 10km time trial in San Benedetto del Tronto on Tuesday likely a matter of seconds rather than minutes, Quintana appears to have a second victory at the 'Race of the Two Seas' all but wrapped up.
While future Giro d'Italia rivals such as Fabio Aru and Vincenzo Nibali have sputtered and stumbled, Quintana has impressed with some strong spring form. The Movistar team ensured Quintana gained a few seconds on his direct rivals with a solid team time trial performance on the opening stage. He rode well in the Tuscan hills and then soared away on the queen stage to Terminillo on Saturday to win alone and open a commanding overall lead.
Quintana never looked in trouble during Sunday's stage, even when was he was alone in the first part of the group of 30 riders that formed on the steep final climbs. He even had the guile and courage to attack on the final 14 per cent muro just three kilometres from the finish, to instill some order and selection before the sprint to the finish. He was in total control.
"We had to be very careful during today's stage and that's why raced intelligently. Now with this stage done, there's less tension and less risk of something happening. Now I know I have to do a good time trial but there isn't the pressure there was before," Quintana said with assurance.
"I attacked on the last climb to split the group up a little, so we didn't have a lot of riders for the sprint to the line. It was a tough finale. I wasn't a surprise to see Sagan win like that. We've seen him win on almost every kind of terrain and every kind of finish. The teams rode the stage as if it was a Classic and we'd suspected that Sagan and Bora would too."
With Orica-Scott's Adam Yates forced to quit Tirreno-Adriatico with stomach problems, Quintana now leads Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) by 50 seconds and Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing) by 1:06. Quintana's featherweight build makes it difficult to gain time in trials but he will surely have no problem defending the blue jersey on Tuesday and so again lift the winner's trident trophy just as he did in 2015.
Other world class time trialists are a little further back in the overall standings but Quintana would have to crash or suffer a complex mechanical problem for him to lose his safe margin of victory.
"For the time being, my gap against the main rivals looks good for the time trial," he said.
"It's not like I'm a bad time trialist, but considering how strong the specialists who are behind me in the classification are in this discipline are, you've got to be cautious. I hope it's enough of a margin to win the race, I think it should be. But we must ride strong also on Tuesday to secure this."
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