The two crucial mountain stages of the Volta a Catalunya may be fading in the race’s rear view mirror but the battle for the overall showed no sign of abating on Friday's stage 5 with João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) ousting Nairo Quintana (Arkea-Samsic) from the lead by just one second.
Previously tied on time with his Colombian rival on GC, Almeida edged ahead of Quintana in the second intermediate sprint of the stage to snatch a bonus second for third place, enough to propel the Portuguese racer into the lead.
Sprinting on different sides of the road, Quintana initially expressed doubts that Almeida had taken third. But after talking to race officials at the finish, Arkéa-Samsic quickly recognised that Almeida had been better placed than their leader.
"As we said before the stage, it wasn't not easy to be in the same time as Almeida, and it turns out he was faster today," Quintana said afterwards.
"I have very little experience in sprints, but finally I'm still second overall and on the plus, that means they'll have to work tomorrow [Saturday] and we can go on the offensive again."
"There's nothing to say, we went to the commissaires but it was clear that Almeida was third," Arkéa-Samsic sports director Yvon Ledanois added. "It was close, he has the lead by a second, and there are two stages left to go. We'll fight on."
Although 2022 is proving remarkably successful for Arkéa-Samsic so far, in its 17 years of existence the French Pro Conti team had never previously held a lead in a WorldTour stage race prior to Thursday. But they now have two solid opportunities to try and regain it.
With 3,000 metres of vertical climbing, Saturday's stage is exceptionally hilly and includes a first category ascent, the Coll de les Liebres Mussara. Although the toughest climbing is early in the day, the second-category Col de la Teixeta with 30 kilometres to go could prove a detonation point in the race.
Sunday's series of laps through the Montjuïc Park with a short, steep climb on each circuit is far more familiar terrain, but its technical, continually twisting terrain is notoriously hard for a GC team to control.
"We've got two very hard days, and we'll keep trying. Anything can happen," Quintana, who already captured the overall of the Volta a Catalunya in 2016, insisted on Friday evening.
"I'm still focussed on my pre-race objective of getting to Barcelona on the podium, and maybe to win."
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The Independent, The Guardian, ProCycling, The Express and Reuters.