Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) rarely shows his emotions, but he kissed the distinctive Tirreno-Adriatico winner's trident trophy and roared in happy relief on the final podium, despite initially being offered a blue winner's jersey with Mitchelton-Scott logos of previous race leader Adam Yates' team on it.
A few minutes before, after finishing his own ride in the final 10km time trial in San Benedetto del Tronto, Roglic had to wait see if Yates could beat him. Only when Yates ran out of time less than 50 metres from the finish line and the clock showed Roglic had pulled back 26 seconds, could the Slovenian rider start to celebrate.
"I cannot describe and express my feelings," Roglic said. "This is incredibly beautiful. It was very exciting and the difference is very small. It was really close. Sometimes you have to be lucky, I gave everything I had."
Roglic lost seven seconds to Yates when Mitchelton-Scott won the team time trial. He gained two bonus seconds on stage 4 to Fossombrone by finishing second, then lost 16 seconds on the hilly stage to Recanati.
He started the final time trial with a deficit of 25 seconds, hoping his time trial skills would be enough to allow him to win. He pulled back seconds throughout the 10km time trial and finished strong, setting a time only 13 seconds slower than stage winner Victor Campenaerts (Lotto Soudal). Two minutes later, Yates finished after giving his all but struggling in the final kilometre. He stopped the clock in a time of 12:02, 26 seconds slower than Roglic, enough to make Roglic the winner by a single second.
"There was a lot of headwind and I tried to make the difference in the second part. That worked out. It was a really hard time trial like always but I just wanted to give 110 per cent. I managed it and won," Roglic explained.
"I have to thank the whole team. This would have never been possible without my teammates. They were all very strong throughout the race. This is a huge boost for me and the team in the run-up to the goals that are yet to come. In particular, the Giro d'Italia."
Roglic is 29 and has been competing at WorldTour level since 2016 after switching from a successful ski jumping career. He still celebrates with a ski jumper pose on the podium but has rapidly developed into a stage race and Grand Tour rider.
He won the hilly time trial stage at the 2016 Giro d'Italia and was fourth in the 2018 Tour de France. His time trialling and climbing skills helped him win the Itzulia Basque Country and the Tour de Romandie in 2018.
He will target the 2019 Giro d'Italia, his first time as a true team leader, but he has inspired a rapid improvement at Jumbo-Visma. He is perhaps an outsider for the Corsa Rosa due to his limited Grand Tour experience, but his victory at Tirreno-Adriatico came after an impressive performance at the recent UAE Tour. He is currently two from two in stage races this year.
"We lead the UAE Tour from start to finish. Here we were close but fortunately the final result is the same. I managed to win and I'm really happy and really proud of the whole team," Roglic said.
"This is a goal for the first part of the season. I don't do a lot of races and so when I do race, I want confirmation that were training well and heading the right way."
Roglic will soon head to altitude for a key training camp for the Giro d'Italia before polishing his form at the Tour de Romandie. He will face Vincenzo Nibali, Tom Dumoulin, Simon Yates and Egan Bernal in May but cannot be ignored despite his modesty.
"I still need to gain a lot of experience, this is only a weeklong stage race. Grand Tours need different skills, but there are similarities that are important to learn. I'm training with the focus on the Giro d'Italia, but it'll also be the first time I target a Grand Tour as a team leader. I hope to do well."