It's not often that Blazin' Saddles brings his weekly blog from the heart of the action - but that's the case as week two of the Vuelta a Espana draws to a close with yours truly out in Barcelona, a mere stone's throw from the stage 13 finish at Castelldefels.
Yet another uphill finish looked to have Philippe Gilbert's name all over it - especially with the Belgian world champion finally ending his 'rainbow duck' on Thursday.
Having been pipped by a matter of inches by Zdenek Stybar for stage seven last Friday, the 31-year-old secured his first win in 347 days on Thursday's stage 12 to Tarragona, ensuring he wouldn't go a whole year in the rainbow fleece without topping a podium.
But a repeat was not to be in the 169km stage to Castelldefels. Deciding that a sweltering hike up the 'nearby' Alto de Rat Penat was perhaps a bit ambitious, Saddles picked up the action at the first intermediate sprint.
Walter Barguil, the eventual stage winner, was near the front as Sky's Xabier Zandio led the break over the line with a lead of over two minutes with 60km remaining. It was the start of a mini loop south of the finish town, including the steep first-category Rat Penat ascent.
While the riders grappled with a gradient peaking at 20 per cent, Saddles hot-legged (quite literally - his first ever waxing session took place just hours earlier) it back to the town centre and up towards the finish, located atop a punchy ramp beside the old castle that gives the place its name.
Italy's Rinaldo Nocentini seemed the danger man of the nine-man breakaway, which had managed to stave off the peloton, but it was French youngster Barguil who did the business. Catching out his more experienced fellow escapees, the Argos-Shimano rider attacked with 1km remaining and powered up the drag to cross the line seven seconds clear of Nocentini.
Later, the 21-year-old whippet would fulfil his press obligations by posing in a small electric car in a courtyard of the ancient Castillo. Saddles - along with his pals Dave and Justin from the satirical website Cyclismas - were the only media representatives not beavering away in the neighbouring press room and so got to jump behind the wheel of the same car.
Barguil's angular knees and elbows still showed the war wounds from his big crash on Monday - the day Chris Horner beat his own record and became the oldest rider to wear the leader's jersey of a Grand Tour for the second time in a week.
Horner's second stage win on this Vuelta came atop the Alto Hazallanas after a timely attack around four kilometres from the end of stage 10. Such was the bombastic nature of his win - the 42-year-old American pretty much rode the final four kilometres in the dancing position - that many people had a Horner harrumph.
In fact, the same people who complained about Chris Froome winning stages with his trademark in-the-saddle accelerations completely went to town with Horner for winning while defiantly staying out of the saddle.
In today's climate of suspicion and default cynicism it seems that you're damned if you do and damned if you don't.
Take Sky's previous two Tours: everyone laid into Dave Brailsford for Bradley Wiggins' tactical overall victory and Froome's subservience in 2012. Then once let off the leash, Froome became the target of bilious accusations - invariably from the same people who seemed too eager for him to call the shots one year earlier.
That said, Horner's previous teams (Saunier-Duval and Astana), his advanced age and his close ties with Lance Armstrong (even last summer, Horner was praising his younger (!) compatriot), have made some people stop and go 'Hmm...'.
But as he himself predicted, Horner lost the red jersey after Tuesday's rest day when Nibali moved back to the top of the pack for the third time of this intriguing race. Presumably on this occasion the Italian might actually try and keep the race lead, seeing that we're now entering the business end of proceedings.
Nibali took red after finishing fourth in the individual time trial - one second slower than his compatriot Domenico Pozzovivo, who rode to an unexpected podium finish in stage 11 despite eschewing a time trial bike and, well, never actually being any good at ITTs.
Oddly enough, the Horner-bashing brigade didn't stick their oar in - whereby giving the piano-playing economist a free ride, so to speak. Perhaps Pozzovivo didn't get out of the saddle enough to arouse suspicion.
Having seen the odds of a third consecutive world championships crown slashed after his quite astonishing solo ride in the opening week of the race, Tony Martin couldn't keep out an equally in-form Fabian Cancellara, who took the ITT win by a lavish 37 seconds. A mouth-watering head-to-head beckons in Tuscany later this month, with forgotten man Bradley Wiggins - back in action doing the PR rounds for Sky over the roads of Britain imminently - looking to figure too.
Earlier in the week there was a maiden Grand Tour win for Scottish-sponsored Team NetApp-Endura, with Leo Konig making it two-in-two for the Czech Republic after outsprinting Dani Moreno at Alto Penas Blancas for stage eight.
A splendid third-place by Nicolas Roche propelled the Franco-Irishman into the race lead, rubbishing all those claims that he'd thrown away any chances of personal glory in signing for Saxo-Tinkoff.
With team figurehead Alberto Contador looking more and more like a one-Grand-Tour-a-year rider now that he's turned vegetarian, Roche looks set to profit chez Bjarne Riis. Will we soon be able to say 'Like father, like son'? Perhaps, but it remains to be seen in what capacity.
Rampant Roche's red run didn't exactly last long though, as Moreno made up for missing out to Konig a day earlier with his second win of the race in stage nine at Valdepenas de Jaen.
Having performed in a more stand-outish manner than Katusha head honcho Joaquim Rodriguez thus far, Moreno's one-second lead on top of GC was gobbled up 24 hours later by that man Horner, bringing us full circle in this round-up.
With Nibali in control of proceedings and Barguil on cloud nine after his maiden Grand Tour scalp, the race now moves into its hardest phase, as the first of five stages in the high mountains starts with a trip north to Andorra on Saturday.
Saddles, too, is heading towards the Pyrenees - not to follow the Vuelta but to take part in his own Grand Tour. Your faithful cycling scribe is riding 2,350 kilometres from Barcelona to Rome in the footsteps of the Carthaginian general Hannibal.
The 25-day route passes over the Alps and then will traverse Tuscany at the same time as the world championships. With Tony Martin on such good form and Philippe Gilbert experiencing something of a recent resurgence - what odds of both riders defending their rainbow jerseys? Definitely worth a punt. (Maybe bung in Omega Pharma-Quick Step and make it a trifecta while you're at it.)
Stranger things have happened on a bike - for example, Horner riding up a hill for four kilometres without his backside making contact with any leather.
But before the Worlds we have the small matter of the final eight days of this wonderful Vuelta. Nibali is the stand-out favourite - but Alejandro Valverde and Rodriguez have yet to strike. Roche, too, looms at 31 seconds, and has a pair of his dad's boots he'd like to fill.