Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) remains in control of Itzulia Basque Country's overall classification but the Slovenian admitted afterwards he had been outmaneuvered by his younger rival Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) after stage 3 to Ermualde, the first of two summit finishes.
Roglič shadowed Pogačar closely on the climb each time the UAE Team Emirates racer tried to move ahead, and then when Roglič launched his own powerful acceleration 500 metres from the top, only Pogačar could follow.
However, once Pogačar – whose team had made sure he had reconnoitered the climb earlier in the day in person – edged into the first place going into the technical rollercoaster of the finale, it proved impossible for Roglič to get past.
As a result, the younger Slovenian took both the stage win and a time bonus that cut Roglič's advantage from 24 to 20 seconds overall.
When asked by reporters afterwards if, as Pogačar said, knowing the climb thanks to his early morning recon had changed the result between winning and losing, Roglič said he agreed.
"It was very important and it definitely made a difference in that last 500 metres. If I had known the climb beforehand, I would have done it differently," he said.
"It was very technical, a super-hard climb, then a little less steep at the top and up and down after that. Tadej was better than me in the final."
"But three weeks ago I was twice on the floor," he added, reminding reporters of his multiple crashes on the last day of Paris-Nice that cost him the overall victory, "so I've not had the best preparation for here. I have to be happy with my result."
Roglič was asked if he felt 20 seconds could be enough for him to stay in control of the race between here and Saturday. Although Saturday brings a tough finish at the Alto de Arrate, Thursday's stage also has a complicated finale. The stage, which departs Alavá's capital, or Gasteiz, features an ascent of the main climb in the Clásica San Sebástian, the Jaizkebel, as well another tough climb, the first category Erlaitz.
"We will see if I win yellow at the end," Roglič said. "Really if it's by one second or five minutes, that's the same result. So we'll keep fighting."
As the race reaches its halfway point, while Pogačar is clearly the greatest threat, one other unpredictable factor is the weather, which after Wednesday's sunshine, has been forecast to turn rough again on Friday and Saturday. But Roglič said that there was little point in looking any further ahead than the next 24 hours for now.
"For sure everybody enjoys the weather we're having today, but let's get through tomorrow [Thursday] and then we'll see what happens from afterwards. Day by day."
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 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. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
Thank you for signing up to Cycling News. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.