Race favourite Remco Evenepoel took back the overall lead of the Giro d'Italia on Sunday, winning a rainy 35km stage nine individual time-trial by a single second from Geraint Thomas.
The riders were forced into a prudent approach given the rain-slick urban streets and cobbled surfaces as the top five on the day were separated by just eight seconds.
Evenepoel now leads the Giro ahead of Thomas by 45sec with Primoz Roglic third at 47sec. Rounding out the top five are Tao Geoghegan Hart at 50sec and Joao Almeida at 1min 07sec.
Evenepoel's main rival Roglic finished 17 seconds down on a day he was wearing his Olympic time-trial champion's golden helmet.
Team Jumbo leader Roglic had been trailing by a far wider margin but rallied over the final section to limit the damage.
The biggest surprise of the tricky stage nine was the 2018 Tour de France champion Thomas who timed 41min 25sec, one second slower than Evenepoel but one second faster than his Ineos teammate Hart.
Thomas won the 2020 Giro time trial in Sicily only to crash out a few days later as Hart went on to lift the title.
?? @EvenepoelRemco: "It's another stage win but it wasn't my best time trial. To go to the mountains with the advantage I have now is pretty good but Ineos for sure will have some plans to attack me"#Giro #GirodItalia @soudalquickstep pic.twitter.com/sZ8TpHYBnx — Giro d'Italia (@giroditalia) May 14, 2023
"That was close. It was good to be in the mix with Tao. It looks promising," said the 36-year-old Welshman.
World champion and Vuelta winner Evenepoel, 23, said he had had a bad day and was looking forward to a good day off on Monday.
"I started too fast and suffered a little midway, but I got my legs back in the end," said the Quick Step rider who complained about the wind.
"It's not the best result, but I won even if it wasn't a top performance."
Fifth overall, Team UAE leader Almeida also felt he could have done better.
"With the rain it was slippy," he said. "With all the corners it was a gamble. All in all I was happy though," said the Portuguese rider.
Another man who had been tipped to win on this pizza-flat route was Ineos speed king Filippo Ganna, who pulled out ahead of Saturday's stage with Covid.
Overnight leader, Norway's Andreas Leknessund made a valiant effort to retain his pink jersey, but dropped to sixth overall.
The total length of the three individual time trials on this Giro is 73km and lends Evenepoel enough advantage for the Quick Step rider to choose the Giro over the Tour de France this season.
The peloton gets its first rest day on Monday before two mountain and three hilly stages in week two with the race veering into Switzerland where the Crans Montana and the Col du Grand Saint Bernard at 2469m altitude await any pretender to this 106th Giro.