There was to be no fairytale ending to Euskaltel's troubled Giro d'Italia campaign as Samuel Sánchez failed to put the finishing touches to his team-mates' relentless work on the road to the snowy summit of Tre Cime di Lavaredo.
The team directors ordered all orange-clad riders to the front of the pack once the day's break had built up a decent gap, hoping to set up their team captain for what would have been a famous win atop a mythical ascent.
And for quite some time it didn't look all that unlikely. 'Samu', protected by Gorka Verdugo, Egoi Martínez and Jorge Azanza, looked to be going well on the penultimate climb of Tre Croci, positioning himself near the front.
Then, out of the blue a few clicks from the top of the Lavaredo, he was gone. Just like that. For fans spoiled by his ever-consistent and reliable performances for the better part of a decade, it was quite a shock. After all, he'd placed second in a hill time trial two days prior and seemed, unquestionably so, to have been on the up after a lacklustre first week and a half of the race.
Naturally, rumours of the 35-year-old being hit by mechanical trouble started to gather pace, but, as it turned out, nothing in particular had happened. Believe it or not, Samuel Sánchez just didn't have the legs.
As Vincenzo Nibali showed why he's just about as deserving a Grand Tour winner as you'll ever see by cantering to the stage win and the overall to go with it, Sánchez's woes increased by every ten metres. Eventually, with his face visibly exhausted and a body as drained of energy as can be, he came across the finish line in 21st place, more than two minutes in arrears.
For a team leader more grateful and appreciative of his team-mates' work than most, he must surely have felt awful upon realizing his domestiques had squeezed out every possible bit of watt from their legs all day long for nothing.
There was no word or explanation from the man himself afterwards.
Team boss Igor González de Galdeano did talk to the press, though, and praised his charges despite the lack of results.
"The team has been really strong in this last week of the race. Sánchez has been very combative, but the victory has escaped us", he said. "Today the team did a perfect job. We put all our eggs in one basket for Samuel, but he couldn't pull it off. And when a rider does his best but just can't make it, all you ask is that he soldiers on and doesn't give up.
"Things haven't gone as well as we'd hoped here in Italy. In addition, luck hasn't been on our side. Urtasun crashed the first day, another crash followed, we punctured in the team time trial... The Giro is over, though, and we can't go back".
An off-colour performance in the first Grand Tour of the year was preceded by an equally lacklustre first few months of the season leading up to it. Galdeano admits his team hasn't been up to much.
"The first part of the year concluded with the Giro d'Italia. I won't deny that we're not happy with the results", he stated. "The Giro has reflected the season as a whole: we've fought, but we haven't gotten the results. The objectives were clear: reach the start of the Giro with four wins to our name and hopefully grab a few more here and aspire to a high overall placing. We haven't reached our goals.
"The first big challenge of the year was the Vuelta al País Vasco. We came to that race winless and with the pressure that brings with it. In "our" race, we didn't manage to shine until the penultimate stage when Sánchez finished second on the queen-stage into Beasain. Later that week we ran second in the GP Indurain and the Clásica Amorebieta. The victories have kept eluding us. We bounced back with consecutive stage wins in the Vuelta a Castilla y León, but we haven't been at our best".
- (1, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), 5:27:41)
- 21, Samuel Sánchez, 2:05
- 35, Egoi Martínez, 4:11
- 40, Gorka Verdugo, 5:13
- 46, Jorge Azanza, 6:20
- 136, Ioannis Tamouridis, 19:02
- 155, Robert Vrecer, 20:45
- 162, Ricardo Mestre, 21:53
- 166, Miguel Mínguez, 23:37
- (1, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), 79:23:19)
- 12, Samuel Sánchez, 11:59
- 23, Egoi Martínez, 36:30
- 33, Jorge Azanza, 1:07:03
- 64, Gorka Verdugo, 1:04:13
- 90, Robert Vrecer, 2:36:11
- 143, Ricardo Mestre, 3:36:00
- 153, Ioannis Tamouridis, 3:47:23
- 166, Miguel Mínguez, 4:23:16