Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) struggled in the closing kilometres of the Alto de l'Angliru on Sunday's stage 12 of the Vuelta a España and lost the overall race lead by 10 seconds to arch-rival Richard Carapaz (Ineos-Grenadiers), but given the narrowness of the defeat, the Slovenian remained resolutely upbeat.
After both Movistar and Ineos Grenadiers, in the shape of a fast-improving Chris Froome, had provided some sterling support on the earlier ascents, Jumbo-Visma settled into the driving seat of controlling the pace on the main climb of the day, with Robert Gesink and Jonas Vingegaard doing superb work on the front.
But as soon as Enric Mas (Movistar) and Hugh Carthy (EF Pro Cycling) began their first probing attacks with three kilometres to go, Roglič looked to be struggling slightly. And when Carapaz accelerated remorselessly away a kilometre later, for all Sepp Kuss' efforts to guide Roglič up the slopes as quickly as possible, the damage was done.
Fifth at the summit, 10 seconds behind Carapaz, Roglič admitted it had not been a good day for him, but added, "at the end, I'm happy with it." As he was also quick to point out, "we go on with the time trial on Tuesday. I will do my best there and then we'll see afterwards how it is."
Despite the defeat, then, Roglič agreed he was still able to see the glass as half-full.
"I couldn't win it, for sure I didn't have the best day, but like I said at the end, a couple of seconds lost and we'll see about Tuesday."
Roglič said previously he had never tackled an ascent as tough as Sunday's and he reflected afterwards, "It was a tough climb, if you have good legs you go faster, but if you don't, it's not so good. But either way, when you get to the top, you're happy.
"I think Sepp could go for the win, but he had to stay and support me. The guys were on a great level day. Hopefully, he will still have some opportunities in the next days although the overall is the big goal."
"I think we showed we have a very strong team, the best in the race," Sports Director Grischa Niermann added. "And eventually, in the last kilometres, Primož lost the jersey, but we have to evaluate things on Tuesday.
"This was the other guys' biggest opportunity to attack Primož and he lost 26 seconds to Carthy. He could hold the gap."
Had Roglič managed to take time on Carapaz and the other rivals on the Angliru, the Vuelta would be as good as over - and for another 48 hours at least, the race remains wide open.
The question of the wider implications of Roglič's mountain-top defeat will be seen quickly in Tuesday's time trial, where it will become clear if the Angliru marks the point where Roglič begins to come off the boil in the third week of a Grand Tour, as has happened in the past.
However, it may also be that the exceptionally steep slopes of the Angliru tested Roglič's climbing legs in a way that will not be repeated between here and Madrid and the Slovenian, as by far the best time triallist of the GC favourites, having twice gone from the red of leader to green of points leader will once again be back in red on Tuesday. Watch this space.
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.