Chris Froome (Team Sky) revisited the location of his first Grand Tour stage win and repeated the feat five years later, beating red jersey wearer Nairo Quintana (Movistar) to the line in another head-to-head battle.
The relatively flat stage ended with a brutal kick up to Pena Cabarga, where Froome triumphed at the Vuelta in 2011, again battling the red jersey holder JJ Cobo, and the Team Sky man came out on top again.
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Quintana put in two successive attacks in the final kilometres, but Froome matched the moves and eventually out-sprinted the Colombian in the run for the line to take maximum bonus seconds.
The majority of the escapees were caught almost as soon as the race hit the brutal gradients of the day’s only real climb with six kilometres to go to the finish.
Gradients of over 15 per cent for most of the climb meant it was a scrappy affair. Tinkoff shed almost all of their domestiques at the foot of the climb, while Movistar had three men at the head of the peloton for Quintana.
Breakaway man Ben Hermans (BMC) stubbornly held on at the head of the race but was finally snapped back up with three kilometres to the summit, with former red jersey wearer Ruben Fernandez (Movistar) setting a fierce pace in the peloton.
Fernandez’s pace was so high that there was not even a sniff of an attack in the first four kilometres of the climb, but Esteban Chaves (Orica-BikeExchange) put in a huge effort with 1700m to the line.
There was no immediate response from Quintana but his teammate Alejandro Valverde made the biggest effort to bring the Colombian back. But Valverde’s pace didn’t do much to bring Chaves closer to the peloton, with the Orica man gaining 20 seconds with a kilometre left to the line.
Froome wasn’t happy to let Chaves go, though, sending Leopold Konig to the front to drive the pace.
Quintana then showed his hand, attacking to catch Chaves with Froome on his wheel. Froome had a dig with 600m to go, but the pair both slowed up in the run up to the line.
Froome had the last laugh, though, out-pacing Quintana to the line to gain a four second advantage over the Colombian, thanks to the bonus seconds, and move to second overall.
Thursday sees a lumpy stage into the Basque Country, finishing in Bilbao, with four categorised climbs along the 193km route.
Vuelta a España 2016, stage 11: Colunga to Peña Cabarga, 168.6km
1. Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky in 3-44-47
2. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar at same time
3. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar at 6 secs
4. Leopold König (Cze) Team Sky
5. Alberto Contador (Esp) Tinkoff at same time
6. Simon Yates (GBr) Orica-BikeExchange at 13 secs
7. Michele Scarponi (Ita) Astana at 14 secs
8. Esteban Chaves (Col) Orica-BikeExchange at 19 secs
9. Pierre Latour (Fra) Ag2r La Mondiale at 22 secs
10. Samuel Sanchez (Esp) BMC Racing at 30 secs
General classification after stage 11
1. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar in 42-21-48
2. Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky at 54 secs
3. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar at 1-05
4. Esteban Chaves (Col) Orica-BikeExchange at 2-34
5. Alberto Contador (Esp) Tinkoff at 3-06
6. Leopold König (Cze) Team Sky at 3-09
7. Simon Yates (GBr) Orica-BikeExchange at 3-25
8. Michele Scarponi (Ita) Astana at 3-34
9. David de la Cruz (Esp) Etixx-QuickStep at 3-45
10. Samuel Sanchez (Esp) BMC Racing at 3-56