Tadej Pogačar conceded that there was nothing he could have done to prevent Primož Roglič winning the Tour of the Basque Country.
The UAE-Team Emirates rider was in the unusual position of working for another leader on the sixth and final stage of the race, with his team-mate Brandon McNulty in the yellow jersey.
With 60km to go of a climb-laden stage, Roglič attacked on a descent and distanced both McNulty and Pogacar, with neither able to get close enough to Roglič once again.
Jumbo-Visma's Roglič eventually finished second to David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) to claim the overall victory, with Pogačar holding on to finish third in the GC.
Reflecting on the day's racing, Pogačar said: "It was impossible to close the gap immediately on the descent.
"If the attack happened on the climb or on the flat, you could follow, but it's impossible to follow on the descent. It is how it is.
"Of course we would like to have been there when they went but it was just impossible."
Roglič had followed an attack by Ineos Grenadiers' Richard Carapaz, but Pogačar refused to believe that his compatriot was responsible for the leading group breaking up.
"I don't think Primož's attack was when the race was decided," he added. "It was the Astana guys.
"We controlled the race. We had Marc [Hirschi] in the breakaway, we were pulling on the back and then the Astana guys attacked us on top of the climb and we just lost some positions.
"They went with all of the speed ahead us and Brandon and I were with [Jumbo-Visma's Jonas] Vingegaard and one Ineos rider [Adam Yates] and it was impossible to pass immediately to close the little gap.
"After two or three corners the gap was bigger and we lost touch with the first group. That was the race broken.
"We called Marc back and we tried to pull it back but Brandon exploded on the steep climb. Then it was a fight to come back to the first group for me, but I was just a bit too short and I was fighting for third place."
Pogačar, who has already won the UAE Tour and Tirreno-Adriatico this season, will now turn his attention to La Flèche Wallone and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
"We had a really wonderful week here," he continued. "Brandon showed he has good character is a really good rider who will be really bright in the future. We had fun this week, we tried and under the circumstances we are happy with this week."
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