Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) tested each other's form during the first mountain finish at the Giro del Trentino, with the Italian making several attacks and the Briton responding with his now trademark surges to close the gap.
Wiggins was keen to get away from the chaos of the finish area but was clearly happy with his performance. He revealed that he had completed his course of antibiotics for his saddle sore infection on Tuesday and said he felt a lot better during the long stage to Vetriolo Terme.
"I didn't feel great all day, but as soon as I started making an effort I feel better. As I said last week, my form is better than it was before the Tour de France, but I had a strong course of antibiotics and it knocked me for six coming into this race," Wiggins said after congratulating teammate Kanstantin Siutsou on his stage just after the finish line.
"I wasn't sure of how I'd go but I finished the antibiotics yesterday and this morning I felt like a different man."
Wiggins said he studied Nibali during the climb, swapping accelerations and chasing, like prize fighters swap jabs early in a big fight.
He finished in the same time as Nibali, 19 seconds behind Siutsou. Maxime Bouet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) is back in the race lead but Wiggins and Nibali have already pulled back three minutes with two more mountain stages to come.
Wiggins is fourth overall, 3:48 behind Bouet and 29 seconds down on Siutsou. Nibali is a further nine seconds back. Pierre Rolland (Team Europcar), Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team) and Michele Scarponi (Lampre-Merida) are all more than a minute down after losing contact on the climb.
"I was really within myself on the whole climb. It was good being with Vincenzo because we could really see what each other has got. I was letting him go and then reacting to his attacks, to see if he could sustain them," Wiggins said.
"I was always conscious of the fact that if I went, then Kansta (Siutsou) could have lost the stage. But he won the stage, so it was brilliant. It was a fantastic day for the team. Things are good."
Wiggins' racing strategy was similar to that of the 2012 Tour de France. When his rivals attacked hard and went into the red, he preferred to let them go and then gradually pulled them back with a controlled effort.
We should expect a similar tactic at the Giro d'Italia, but Wiggins also hinted he will not be afraid to go on the offensive on the climbs at the Giro if needed.
"Nibali's the best rider in the peloton at the moment. It's for us to try and take the Giro d'Italia from him," Wiggins said.
"You never know what the others are doing. Basso and Scarponi weren't really there, Cadel (Evans) always goes at full gas, but everyone is at different stages of preparation for the Giro."
"I think my climbing has come on, so I'm happy. I feel a lot more comfortable on the climbs now than even last year…"
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