Germany's Tony Martin put in a towering performance in Tuscany this afternoon to win the UCI World Championship Time Trial for the third year in a row, while behind him Great Britain's Sir Bradley Wiggins and Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland fought out a duel through the streets of Florence for the silver medal as they headed towards the finish at Mandela Forum.
The trio had been expected to make up today's podium, and while Martin took a convincing victory over his rivals, the battle for the runner's up spot went down to the wire, with nothing between Cancellara and Wiggins in the final kilometres.
The Briton had overcome what had been a 24 second deficit to the Swiss rider at the second time check, taken after 24.1km of the 57.9km parcours from Montecatini Terme.
At that point, 37 seconds down on Martin, too it looked as though Wiggins might be drawn into a battle for the bronze medal with his Team Sky colleague Vasil Kiryienka, representing Belarus.
Over the successive kilometres, however, Wiggins began to reel in Cancellara, pulling back half his deficit to by the third time check at Via Pistoiese on the outskirts of Florence.
Inside the final kilometres, as he headed along the Arno and past the Pontevecchio, he was level pegging with four-time world champion Cancellara, who seemed better suited to the twists and turns of the final part of the course.
Wiggins though, riding without time checks through his own choice, finished stronger as he put in a trademark negative split, prevailing over Cancellara by a shade over 2 seconds.
Martin, however, was unbeatable today. The German was quickest at all the intermediate time checks, other than the first which came at just 7.3km after the day's only significant climb, and even then he was ceding just a third of a second to Cancellara.
After that, the German - who beat Wiggins into second place in Copenhagen two years ago when he took the first of his three rainbow jerseys - began to stretch out his advantage and won by nearly three quarters of a minute in a time of 1 hour 5 minutes 36.65 seconds.
Taylor Phinney of the USA, who is based in Tuscany and was many people’s pick to at least get on the podium, finished fifth behind Kiryienka, one of the day’s surprises, as was the young Dane Rasmus Quaade, in sixth place, and surely a future challenger for the podium.
Great Britain’s other hope for the day, Alex Dowsett, winner of a time trial stage at the Giro d’Italia in May but struggling with illness ahead of last week’s Tour of Britain, finished in what he admitted was a disappointing 41st place, the best part of 6 minutes behind Martin.
In winning today, the German emulates the double achievement of Ellen van Dijk of the Netherlands – at the weekend, both won gold in the team time trial with their respective trade teams, Omega Pharma-Quick Step and Specialized Lululemon, and both have gone on to add the individual title.
"I had done 95 percent of course already in the team time trial, I knew the road perfectly," explained Martin.
"When I got an advantage of 40 seconds, the last five kilometres were pretty nice, just like Copenhagen when I knew I was going to be the World Champion.
“There was a lot of pressure, but to be honest I need that pressure to do well. I work better with it. I think first time already the nicest, but for sure this win comes really close, I think silver would have been really disappointing for me.”
Wiggins, runner-up to Martin for the second time in three years, said: "“I’m pretty relieved and I’m satisfied with my performance, there was not a lot more that I could have done. I was very consistent throughout, and I got beaten by a better bike rider today.
“I was pretty confident that I could come back and catch quite a few riders, but when I heard the margin at the first time split, I knew winning would be difficult."
Cancellara, who had come out on top against Martin in the individual time trial during the Vuellta earlier this month, reflected: “I had no idea I would be so close to Bradley but I knew it would be a hard battle.
“I knew it would be an hour of pain and an hour of pleasure, but either way it was less pressure. This result will help motivate me towards Sunday’s road-race now.”
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.