George Bennett's hopes of winning a second Tour of California title have taken a hit.
Bennett has finished 10th on stage two, riding strongly, but being tactically outmanoeuvred by several other squads as some of his rivals stole a march in the race for the overall title.
The Kiwi climber leaked 31 seconds to former winner Tejay van Garderen, while 20-year-old sensation Tadej Pogacar also snuck away to earn 21 seconds over Bennett, who now sits in 10th overall, 36 seconds behind new race leader van Garderen.
The stage was won by promising Dane Kasper Asgreen, who edged van Garderen in the kick for the line on the final incline, but the bigger blow was dealt earlier, where Bennett was caught out by attacks on the difficult undulating stage at altitude.
An attack with 50 kilometres to go saw the likes of Felix Grosschartner and Rohan Dennis escape up the road in a 15-man break, taking a handy lead. With only one teammate available to help out, Bennett was forced to cover the move himself, attacking alongside young Colombian Sergio Higuita, and with 30 kilometres to go, he had impressively managed to almost single-handedly bring the leaders back.
He was then left isolated though, and with just over 20 kilometres to go, another move formed, including the dangerous Pogacar. With most teams getting a representative in the break, there were few willing participants to chase, leaving Bennett's teammate Neilson Powless - who, perhaps in a tactical blunder, was part of several breakaways during the stage - having to drop back to try and drag Bennett back into contention.
Powless was the only rider working though, and slowly the breakaway built an advantage. Van Garderen, a specialist at altitude, surprisingly left Pogacar and Max Schachmann in his wake, and while Bennett was again one of the strongest men from the main group, he could only minimise his losses on the punchy final climb.
With the next three stages unlikely to make a major difference in the general classification, Bennett may have to pin his hopes on the pivotal penultimate Mount Baldy stage, which finishes with a climb of 7.6 kilometres at an average gradient of 8.8 per cent.
However, with talented climbers such as van Garderen (36 seconds) and Pogacar (20 seconds) now holding significant time buffers over Bennett, he will need to either claw back time before that stage, or ride the climb of his life to vault back into contention to add to his 2017 overall success.
Before the race, Bennett pinpointed today's stage as one where you couldn't win the race, but you could certainly lose it.
Those words may well have proven prophetic.