Dani Martínez delivered a message to his anticipated Tour de France rivals after his Tour of the Basque Country victory that he can still improve ahead of his bid to win the yellow jersey.
The Ineos Grenadiers rider overturned a two-second deficit to Remco Evenepoel on the sixth and final stage of the Basque race to claim his second ever WorldTour stage race triumph, coming 20 months after his maiden, the 2020 Critérium du Dauphiné.
It was, however, the 25-year-old's first for Ineos, the team that he is expecting to lead at July's Tour alongside Adam Yates.
Speaking after his win in what is commonly referred to as the hardest week-long stage race in the world, Martínez said: "I feel good and for the Tour de France I still have a long way to go.
"The team has clear objectives, there are other very strong riders too, and I will do what the team want me to do for what is to come.
"This victory is very special and it's very important for what comes next. But like I said, I'm still missing quite a lot for the Tour de France.
"I'm calm about it. The team we will have has very good riders: there's Adam Yates and Geraint Thomas who you seen got much stronger every day. He has the experience and he will arrive at the Tour very well.
"It's a big responsibility [to have the team riding in support of him], but they give me confidence. With Geraint, Adam, it's something really strong. We continue with confidence."
The sixth stage came alive with around 45km to go ahead of the penultimate climb when race leader Evenepoel was distanced by a group involving Martínez. Although Evenepoel was able to get back on after some superb descending, the Belgian was unable to keep pace with Martínez and co. on the final ascent, paving the way for the Colombian to top the GC.
"It was an extremely hard day," the stage four winner said. "The team's strategy was to make the race very hard on the climbs so that Remco would arrive at the finish a little empty.
"We had two seconds on Remco, but it's always difficult because it was two seconds to a complete rider. It was very complex.
"He remained very solid until the final. When I saw that the attacks began, we stayed in front and we were able to win the race."
Such was the drama, Martínez admitted that there were times when he doubted if he would be able to overcome Evenepoel.
"At times I saw myself as losing," he reflected, "even finishing outside the top-10. Until the very end nothing was known; only then did I consider myself as the winner of the race.
"In the end, when Remco was dropped, only then did I see the possibility of winning the race.
"This is one of the hardest races in the world. The climbs here are extremely hard. I'm happy to win this beautiful race."
Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
Join now for unlimited access
Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
Chris first started writing for Cycling Weekly in 2013 on work experience and has since become a regular name in the magazine and on the website. Reporting from races, long interviews with riders from the peloton and riding features drive his love of writing about all things two wheels.
Probably a bit too obsessed with mountains, he was previously found playing and guiding in the Canadian Rockies, and now mostly lives in the Val d’Aran in the Spanish Pyrenees where he’s a ski instructor in the winter and cycling guide in the summer. He almost certainly holds the record for the most number of interviews conducted from snowy mountains.
Ethan Hayter seals overall victory at Tour of Poland
The win is Hayter's first on GC at WorldTour level, and his second overall senior victory
By Ryan Dabbs • Published
Dylan Teuns moves mid-season to Israel-PremierTech
Belgian rider moves to new team from Bahrain Victorious in unusual mid-season transfer
By Tom Thewlis • Published