Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) secured overall victory at Tirreno-Adriatico after holding off Chris Froome (Team Sky) in the final time trial, won by world champion Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-QuickStep).
Nibali, who went into the race as defending champion having also triumphed in 2012, started the day with a 34-second advantage over Froome at the top of the general classification having leapfrogged the Briton on stage six.
Tour de France runner-up Froome, who will lead Team Sky at this year’s race, went 11 seconds quicker than Nibali over the 9.2km course but that was not enough to dethrone the Italian.
Martin posted 10 minutes and 25 seconds to win the stage by six seconds from Adriano Malori (Lampre-Merida), with Andrey Amador (Movistar) a further four seconds back in third, while Froome finished sixth and Nibali 12th.
Froome, who opened his season with overall victory at the Tour of Oman last month, said: “I wanted to start the season [on the front foot].
“I came off a really good winter training. I didn’t have any sicknesses or problems building up to the season.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m in the best form right now, but I’m definitely on track for where I need to be in March. Any results I’m getting now along the way on the build-up to the Tour are a bonus for me. It’s just a good indication that I’m heading in the right direction.”
Froome relinquished the lead on stage six having admitted to being over-geared on the brutal 27 per cent slopes of the Sant’Elpidio a Mare – a climb so steep it forced some riders off their bikes.
That put Nibali in poll position going into the final stage and, while a weaker time trialist than Froome, the 28-year-old was never likely to forfeit the title.
Martin went into the stage as favourite and swept aside former Italian national time trial champion Malori, who held the provisional lead until then, despite being slow than the Lampre-Merida rider at the first time check.
The real battle was for the podium positions, however, and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) dropped from third to fifth overall after finishing 33rd on the stage, with Alberto Contador (SaxoBank-Tinkoff) taking his compatriot’s position on the podium and Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) rising to fourth.
But there was to be no change at the top, where Nibali, who has admitted to working hard on his time trial position over the winter in a bid to close the gap on specialists like Froome, Contador and Bradley Wiggins, comfortably secured the overall victory to fire an early warning shot to his rivals, Wiggins included, at the Giro d’Italia in May.
“This is perhaps more important than my win last year because of the riders like Rodriguez, Froome and Contador who came,” said Nibali. “It’s been a fantastic Tirreno.”
Tirreno-Adriatico 2013 – stage seven – result
1) Tony Martin (GER) – Omega Pharma-QuickStep – 10’25”
2) Adriano Malori (ITA) – Lampre-Merida +6″
3) Andrey Amador (CRC) – Movistar +10″
4) Fabian Cancellara (SWI) – Radioshack-Leopard-Trek +12″
5) Jonathan Castroviejo (SPA) – Movistar +14″
6) Chris Froome (GBR) – Team Sky +15″
7) Hayden Roulston (NZL) – Radioshack-Leopard-Trek +20″
8) Michal Kwiatkowski (POL) – Omega Pharma-QuickStep +21″
9) Dario Cataldo (ITA) – Team Sky +13″
10) Alex Dowsett (GBR) Movistar – same time
1) Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) – Astana – 28:08.17 hours
2) Chris Froome (GBR) – Team Sky +23″
3) Alberto Contador (SPA) – SaxoBank-Tinkoff +52″
4) Michal Kwiatkowski (POL) – Omega Pharma-QuickStep +53″
5) Joaquim Rodriguez (SPA) – Katusha +54″
6) Chris Horner (USA) – Radioshack-Leopard-Trek +1’21”
7) Mauro Santambrogio (ITA) – Vini Fantini-Selle Italia +2’03”
8) Andrey Amador (CRC) – Movistar +2’42”
9) Przemyslaw Niemiec (POL) – Lampre-Merida +3’19”
10) Wout Poels (NED) – Vacansoleil-DCM +3’35”