Pavel Tonkov threw down the challenge to those intent on preventing him from winning the Giro d'Italia for the second successive year with a dominant performance in the individual time trial that formed yesterday's third stage.
The Russian completed the mostly uphill, 18-kilometre (11.2-mile) dash from Santarcangelo to San Marino in 31min 42sec. His compatriot Eugeni Berzin, the 1994 Giro winner and a time-trial specialist, was second fastest, 21 seconds back.
That set up what is likely to be an ongoing duel throughout the 22-stage event, with Berzin just one second behind Tonkov in the overall standings.
"If I'd known I was just one second behind, I would have worked harder at the end," Berzin said.
Tonkov, who tuned up for his defence by winning the Tour de Romandie earlier this month, said: "I hoped to get a result like this today. It's important looking ahead to rest of the Giro."
Italy's Roberto Petito was third yesterday, 32 seconds behind Tonkov, and is third overall.Reuse content