Race leader Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) may have narrowly missed out on the victory on stage 5 of Tirreno-Adriatico behind Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix), but the Slovenian succeeded in adding 40 seconds to his gap over his main GC rival, Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), and exuded confidence after a brutal day of racing.
"Today went really good for us. The start was so fast, we reached the circuits really fast. The team kept me in a good position when Van der Poel attacked with 60km to go," Pogačar said.
The peloton made quick work of the first half of the 205km stage from Castellalto to the punchy circuits around Castelfidardo but when they arrived so too did a sudden cold front that blew away the pleasant spring weather and plunged riders into single-digit temperatures, wind and rain.
At the 56-kilometre mark, Van der Poel pulled a group of five away with Pogačar, Van Aert, Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) and Sergio Higuita (EF Education Nippo), but then went clear alone on a descent with 52 kilometres still to race.
Van Aert jumped away to take an intermediate sprint time bonus but Pogačar's teammates otherwise controlled the pace until the final lap when it was time for the team leader to put in his likely general classification-clinching attack.
"I had in mind the GC and to make as big a gap as possible. Once I saw that Wout was suffering I got a little bit more motivation," he said.
"I didn't expect to catch Van der Poel but in the end I almost did. Congrats to him he did an amazing ride again to solo in this cold weather - it was a really hard day."
Van der Poel had a three-minute gap with 20km to go, but on the penultimate climb Pogačar attacked, bridged across to three chasers, left them behind and exponentially reduced the Dutch champion's gap to a mere 10 seconds at the finish.
"We just stayed calm in the group and Davide [Formolo] did a good job pulling in the group. In the end I tried and succeeded with the attack but it was a great ride by Van der Poel in this freezing weather," Pogačar said.
"Today was an incredible day. I never thought I could catch him, he had a big gap and is a super good rider. Even though he cracked a little bit in the end it was still an incredible ride from him and I was a little too late to catch him but it didn't matter, I took some good seconds for GC."
The Tour de France champion now has one flat sprint stage and a 10km time trial standing between him and the overall victory but he's not letting his guard down yet.
"Tomorrow anything can happen. Normally [it will be a] sprint and I hope so. I need to stay focused until the finish line."
With a 1:15 advantage over Van Aert, and with Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) now adrift in third at three minutes, Pogačar concluded: "Now I can be more calm. Today was the last really hard day - Wout could take some seconds but in the end, this cold and brutal stage, it was like this.
"I'm super happy to go into tomorrow with this gap and then the time trial."
Laura Weislo has been with Cyclingnews since 2006 after making a switch from a career in science. As Deputy Editor, she coordinates coverage for North American events and global news.
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