Rein Taaramäe took stage three victory and the red leader's jersey at the 2021 Vuelta a España as the GC favourites battled for minor positions.
Taaramäe kicked away solo after looking exceptionally strong in the breakaway on the final climb to the finish at Picón Blanco, with the peloton having given the break over nine minutes' advantage at one point during the stage.
Back in the pack, it was Movistar with Enric Mas and Alejandro Valverde who looked strongest as they led the main GC group over the line with Adam Yates (Ineos Grenadiers) finishing very high up too.
Former race leader, Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) also finished safely inside the GC group.
The biggest and most surprising loser was Olympic champion, Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) who lost exactly a minute to the main GC group.
How it happened
Stage three of the Vuelta a España 2021 started in the town of Santo Domingo de Silos before heading on the 202.8km route - this year’s second longest stage of the race - to the first summit finish on the Picón Blanco.
The breakaway got clear quickly with a strong group of eight riders including some very close to the overall lead. The peloton allowed them a maxiumum gap of just over nine minutes.
The riders up the road included: Lilian Calmejane (Ag2r Citroën Team), Tobias Bayer (Alpecin-Fenix), Jetse Bol (Burgos-BH), Julen Amezqueta (Caja-Rural), Antonio Soto (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Joe Dombrowski (UAE Team Emirates), Kenny Elissonde (Trek-Segafredo), and Rein Taaramäe (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert).
The best-placed rider was Soto at 29 seconds behind Primož Roglič in the general classification.
Jumbo-Visma controlled the pace in the peloton and held the tempo at a steady one in the heat that was soaring above 30 degrees centigrade, but as the distance ticked over the 100km to go mark the speed started to be increased by the Dutch team.
The pace eventually rocketed with 30km to go on the penultimate climb of the day, the Alto de Bocos, as teams looked to get into position for the climb and build-up for the final summit finish.
Bayer took the points and the bonus seconds atop the climb ahead of Soto and the rest, taking three seconds which put him 30 seconds behind the overall leader.
Calmejane went solo on a move on the descent of the climb but was not given any space at all with 18km to go and the gap now at 4-55 to the peloton.
Bahrain Victorious and UAE Team Emirates took over control of the bunch on the climb back in the peloton as they worked hard for their leaders with the gap plummeting to the break.
Calmejane kicked again from the break and did get away the second time of asking with 13km to go, the gap holding at 4-00 to the peloton. He hit the final climb with 8km to go with a 20 second lead over the chasers and 3-57 to the peloton.
Taaramäe then attacked in the chase group and dragged Calmejane back with the Frenchman sitting in with the Estonian, Elissonde, Amezqueta, and Dombrowski.
Ineos Grenadiers took to the front of the peloton onto the climb with Dylan van Baarle controlling the pace with Egan Bernal sat on his wheel.
Deceuninck - Quick-Step and Jumbo-Visma were the teams to come up and try and control the pace on the early slopes, but It was Bahrain Victorious who took complete control with 5km to go as Mark Padun, Damiano Cruso, Wout Poels and Jack Haig worked for their leader Mikel Landa.
Up front, Calmejane kicked again with Elissonde dragging him back yet again. Elissonde then hit out himself and got a small gap. This shelled Amezqueta and Calmejane out of the back.
Dombrowski tried a move that put Elissonde in difficulty. Taaramäe then countered but the trio stuck together with 3km to go.
Taaramäe then attacked again and distanced Elissonde before starting to break Dombrowski with 2.5km to go, eventually riding away solo.
He was able to victory on stage three of the Vuelta with a superb ride on the climb of the Picón Blanco, also managing to take the overall leader's jersey too.
Meanwhile, in the peloton, American climber Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma) was the first of the notable names to lose touch with the peloton. The white jersey of Andrea Bagioli (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) also lost touch as David De La Cruz (UAE Team Emirates) attacked.
It was Adam Yates (Ineos Grenadiers) who eased across to De La Cruz which brought the rest of the peloton back. This put Olympic champion Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) out of the back before the pace then slackened, allowing Carapaz back in.
Oscar Cabedo (Burgos-BH) waited for Bol to be caught from the break before attacking. This dragged De La Cruz out again with Yates glued to his wheel. Carapaz was dropped yet again.
Alejandro Valverde then attacked in the peloton with just nine other riders able to follow including Roglič. Enric Mas managed to get a small gap in the closing metres of the climb to take three seconds away from the rest who finished 1-48 behind the Estonian winner.
Stage four of the Vuelta goes from El Burgo de Osma to Molina de Aragón over a 163.9km route that, by Spanish standards, is quite flat but does have a kick to the line. The route looks as though it could favour the likes of Michael Matthews (BikeExchange) and Alex Aranburu (Astana-Premier Tech).
VUELTA A ESPAÑA 2021, STAGE THREE: SANTO DOMNGO DE SILOS TO PICON BLANCO (204.8KM)
1. Rein Taaramäe (Est) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert, in 5-16-57
2. Joe Dombrowski (USA) UAE Team Emirates, at 21s
3. Kenny Elissonde (Fra) Trek-Segafredo, at 36s
4. Lilian Calmejane (Fra) Ag2r-Citroën Team, at 1-16
5. Enric Mas (Esp) Movistar Team, at 1-45
6. Miguel Ángel López (Col) Movistar Team, at 1-48
7. Primož Roglič (Slo) Team Jumbo-Visma
8. Adam Yates (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers
9. Mikel Landa (Esp) Bahrain Victorious
10. Giulio Ciccone (Ita) Trek-Segafredo, all at the same time
GENERAL CLASSIFICATION AFTER STAGE THREE
1. Rein Taaramäe (Est) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert, in 9-25-44
2. Kenny Elissonde (Fra) Trek-Segafredo, at 25s
3. Primož Roglič (Slo) Team Jumbo-Visma, at 30s
4. Lilian Calmejane (Fra) Ag2r-Citroën Team, at 35s
5. Enric Mas (Esp) Movistar Team, at 45s
6. Miguel Ángel López (Col) Movistar Team, 51s
7. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar Team, 57s
8. Giulio Ciccone (Ita) Trek-Segafredo
9. Egan Bernal (Col) Ineos Grenadiers, all at the same time
10. Mikel Landa (Esp) Bahrain Victorious, at 1-09
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