The entire Giro d'Italia peloton put on a masterclass of bike racing on a short and sharp Stage 16 with Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) emerging victorious in the finishing metres.
The stage was on from the start with all the big hitters digging deep, but it was the veteran Valverde, 36, who sealed the deal with a trademark fast finish at the end of the 132km from Bressanone/Brixen to Andalo, ahead of race leader Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha).
"It's a good day for me as I move up in the overall ranking, although I wanted a stage win as a gift for the mechanics, soigneurs, directors, my family...all the people who have helped me overcome the day I had on Saturday because of the altitude.
"It was only one bad day though. I rode the time trial as well as I could have hoped. We wanted to break the race up today. It's a great feeling to win for the first time at the Giro." - Alejandro Valverde
Kruijswijk remains a revelation, and despite being isolated and again finishing second, he kept the Maglia Rosa after riding a tactically perfect stage covering every surge and attack from his rivals.
He leads Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEDGE) by exactly three minutes after the diminutive Colombian climber struggled early but later recovered to limit any damage to his overall position.
"Second yet again. I wanted to give my team a win but it's an ideal situation for the Maglia Rosa as I'm now three minutes ahead of Esteban Chaves and the others," Kruijswijk said.
"I was feeling really good so I had to make the best of this short but really hard stage. I had to follow Nibali when he attacked early in the stage. I didn't expect so much action the day after the rest day."
While Kruijswick's ride looked confident and controlled from the outside, it didn't come easily.
“It may have looked like I was in control, but there were a lot of attacks in the first part of the race," he said.
"With ten riders at the front, it was an ideal situation for me. It was a short stage and maybe not the race of my life, although, to keep my leadership this week, I think I’ll have to ride all the stages as if they were the race of my life."
In the overall standings, Valverde, who dislodged Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) from a podium spot, now sits in third, just 23 seconds behind Chaves.
The big loser of the day was former Giro winner Nibali, who attacked early in an attempt to crack Kruijswijk and Chaves but later paid the price after losing the sting in his legs, his ambitions all but over after falling to fourth place and four minutes and 43 seconds behind Kruijswijk.
"I came to the Giro with two goals: to win a stage and to finish on the podium," said Valverde. "Half of the mission is now accomplished and I’ve moved into the top three for now, although I’m aware that Nibali who is a born attacker will try and knock me off the podium.
"From what we’ve seen today, Kruijswijk is the strongest and I believe he’ll be the champion at the end of the race. However, my first victory at the Giro is a great emotion. I am really enjoying this race!” Valverde now joins an exclusive club of 84 riders who have won stages at each of the Grand Tours with nine stage wins at the Vuelta a Espana, four at the Tour de France and now one at the Giro d'Italia.