Nairo Quintana (Movistar) tried to see the glass half-full after the stage 16 time trial at the Vuelta a España, though his eagerness to move on and look ahead perhaps betrayed how bruising a day it had been for the Colombian, who slipped out of the podium places.
"Now the mountains are coming," Quintana said repeatedly after wheeling to a halt beyond the finish line on the velodrome of the Oscar Freire sports complex.
The problem is that they now must appear significantly steeper than they did before.
Quintana started the day third overall, 33 seconds down on race leader Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), but conceded 42 seconds to the Briton on the undulating 32km course in Cantabria. Even if the 35 seconds he lost to teammate Alejandro Valverde might have been less than expected, fuel has still been added to the flames of the Movistar leadership dilemma, with 42 seconds now separating the pair.
What's more, Quintana slipped off the provisional podium at the hands of Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo), who finished fourth on the stage to move 23 seconds ahead of the Colombian.
"I knew I was going to lose time," Quintana told reporters. "It was a course for the pure rouleurs, so in the circumstances, with my characteristics, I defended myself pretty well."
As for Kruijswijk: "The truth is that he's a very strong time triallist. He puts down a lot of power and he was on a good day today."
Rather than dwell on what was always likely to be a damaging day, Quintana preferred to emphasise what lies ahead – pretty much all of it being the sort of mountainous terrain on which he ordinarily thrives.
Wednesday's summit finish at the Balcón de Bizkaia in the Basque Country - with concrete roads, devilishly steep gradients and an exposed final couple of kilometres – should be spectacular, while an innocuous flat stage precedes the final weekend double-header in the mountains of Andorra.
"Today was a day that was always going to shape the race. Now the mountains are coming, so let's see how my rivals are, and how my body continues to respond," Quintana said.
"Tomorrow is a crucial day, especially given the energy we've all expended today, so we'll see what happens.
"In any case, I'm feeling good. There's a lot to fight for."
As for the leadership question, which all parties at Movistar tried to play down on Monday's rest day, Quintana would not talk of a hierarchy, but highlighted the positives of having two riders in contention – even if they now occupy the top four spots rather than the top three.
"The good thing is that Valverde is also going well, and it's good for the team to know there are two of us up in the top positions," Quintana said. "The mountains are coming and we have to keep thinking – me, Alejandro, and the team – about the best strategy to use.
Asked if more inventive and perhaps audacious strategies might be tabled, he said: "Clearly. As a team, we're in a good position."
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