Nairo Quintana (Movistar) showed that he is a class above the rest of the field as he blew his competitors away on stage four of the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana.
The steep final climb was always going to favour the Colombian climber, but few foresaw the sort of domination that the Movistar rider enjoyed as he took the stage win by almost a minute, moving into the race lead as the yellow jersey of Greg Van Avermaet suffered on the brutal gradients.
Quintana attacked from the very base of the four-kilometre finishing climb, dragging with him Merhawi Kudus (Dimension Data) and, briefly, Amaro Manuel Antunes (W52-FC Porto-Porto Canal).
Antunes was dropped almost immediately, but Kudus held on to Quintana’s wheel for a little longer, finally falling back with 2km to go.
From there on it was a scintillating display of climbing from Quintana, who never looked in trouble as he rode solo to the line, with Kudus out-sprinting Antunes for second place 40 seconds behind.
The queen stage of the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana saw a five-man break with plenty of climbing talent: Laurens De Plus and Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors), Lawson Craddock (Cannonade-Drapac), Igor Anton (Dimension Data), and Cyril Gautier (Ag2r La Mondiale).
That group went clear on the slopes of the day’s opening climb, the Alto de Arenillas, quickly building up an advantage of more than five minutes.
But with such a testing finale, the teams of the overall contenders were never going to let the break stay away, and the gap was brought below the minute mark within the final 30km, as we saw the Team Sky train setting tempo at the front of the peloton for the first time this season.
That’s not to say that the breakaway was fruitless for all, as Gautier hoovered up the sprints and mountain points to move himself to the top of the intermediate sprints and mountains classifications.
By 12 km to go there were only three men remaining in break as Anton and Gilbert dropped back to the diminished peloton, with De Plus, Craddock and Gautier gallantly holding the gap at around a minute
The gap steadily fell as the group approached the last kilometres, with the trio being caught just as the peloton hit the final ascent.
The final climb of Mas de la Costa starts with the words “Hells starts here” painted across the road, and caused carnage in last year’s Vuelta a España.
It may only be 4.3km long, but with an average gradient of 12.7 per cent and a maximum gradient of 22 per cent , it was also going to be highly selective, especially at such an early point in the season.
Nairo Quintana was the favourite going in to the stage, and the two-time Grand Tour winner instantly went on the attack with Merhawi Kudus latched onto his wheel.
Amaro Manuel Antunes, riding for the Continental level W52-FC Porto-Porto Canal team, put in a huge effort to bridge the gap, but no sooner had he found Kudus’s wheel than he was dropped, with Kudus and Quintana opening up a significant gap, with race Greg Van Avermaet losing significant time in the the first kilometre of the climb.
Quintana was the man with a race to win, and so it was the Colombian who sat on the front, looking comfortable and seemingly breathing through his nose as he pedalled at low cadence up the double digit gradients.
Midway up the climb and a right hand turn onto rougher roads and Kudus was dropped as Quintana subtle raised the pace to go solo, finally looking as though he was putting in some sort of effort with the gradient nudging at 20 per cent.
From that point there was never any chance Quintana being caught, with the 27-year-old never looked in any difficulty as he blew the field away, looking at ease as he cruised up the brutal slopes of the final kilometres to cross the line with an understated one-armed pursuit.
Behind it was a battle between Kudus and Antunes for second place, with the Eritrean winning the sprint as defending champion Wout Poels made up ground to come in fourth.
Greg Van Avermaet eventually crossed the line just under five minutes in arrears to surrender his yellow jersey
The Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana concludes on Sunday with a 130km stage from Paterna to Valencia which should be a stage for the sprinters.
Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana 2017, stage four: Segorbe to Llucena, 180km
1. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar, in 5-02-19
2. Merhawi Kudus (Eri) Dimension Data, at 40 secs
3. Amaro Manuel Antunes (Por) W52-FC Porto-Porto Canal, at 45 secs
4. Wout Poels (Ned) Team Sky, at 48 secs
5. Primoź Roglič (Slo) Team LottoNL-Jumbo, at 57 secs
6. Daniel Martin (Irl) Quick-Step Floors, at 1-07
7. Ben Hermans (Bel) BMC Racing, at 1-08
8. Steven Kruiswijk (Ned) Team LottoNL-Jumbo, at 1-10
9. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana, at 1-13
10. Davide Formolo (Ita) Cannondale-Drapac, at 1-17
General classification after stage four
1. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar, in 14-20-15
2. Ben Hermans (Bel) BMC Racing, at 23 secs
3. Manuel Senni (Ita) BMC Racing, at 42 secs
4. Wout Poels (Ned) Team Sky, at 1-02
5. Daniel Martin (Irl) Quick-Step Floors, at 1-19
6. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana, at 1-52
7. David De La Cruz (Esp) Quick-Step Floors, at 2-03
8. Merhawi Kudus (Eri) Dimension Data, at 2-17
9. Steven Kruiswijk (Ned) Team LottoNL-Jumbo, at 2-22
10. Jonathan Castroviejo (Esp) Movistar, at 2-35