Jesús Herrada sprinted to victory from a giant breakaway of 26 on stage 11 of the Vuelta a España, attacking in the final 300m to glory on Wednesday.
The Spanish Cofidis rider took his third stage win at his home Grand Tour with the win atop the La Laguna Negra summit, with his sprint on the punchy finish netting him first ahead of Romain Grégoire (Groupama-FDJ) and Andreas Kron (Lotto Dstny). It was Spain's first win of the race.
Meanwhile, Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma) remained in the overall lead of the race as the general classification battle was largely quiet. Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) was in the day's break, which saw him gain five minutes on his rivals, moving him up to 18th place.
The British rider admitted post-race that he "wasn't feeling great" and that he "had no real gas" in the finalé, despite teammate Filippo Ganna putting in a lot of work to tee him up.
"Ideally, we wanted two of us, and me and Pippo [Ganna] was a good combination," Thomas said. "I said to him halfway around that I wasn't feeling great. I don't know if the car thought I was being nervous or not confident, but I was being honest. They tried geeing me up and Pippo really wanted to commit to me and I really appreciated that.
"I'm just disappointed I couldn't finish it off. I just felt that I had no real gas at the end. A bit limited. We gave it everything and that's what we had on the day.
"Seeing [Ganna] at the start reminded me of Van Aert at the Tour last year when he could just make a break happen. He was going so well and the bunch was just splitting. Everyone was getting dropped and he was making the break. He's going so well. It was great to have him there, but it was probably too steep for him here so he committed full for me and unfortunately like I say, I couldn't quite finish it off, but we'll keep trying."
The day's break swelled to 26 riders at one point, with well over five minutes on a peloton content to let it go. Not that Wednesday's stage was slow, with the 163.2km tackled at an average speed of 46.8km/h. However, with five summit finishes still to come, one can understand the GC leaders deciding to not tackle this one at full tilt.
The 26 up the road were: Dorian Godon, Nicolas Prodhomme and Damien Touzé (AG2R Citroën); Luis León Sánchez (Astana Qazaqstan); Lukasz Owsian (Arkéa-Samsic); José Manuel Diaz, Eric Fagundez and Pelayo Sánchez (Burgos-BH); Joel Nicolau (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA); Jesus Herrada (Cofidis); Sean Flynn (dsm-firmenich); Jonathan Caicedo and Andrea Piccolo (EF Education-EasyPost); Rudy Molard, Lewis Askey and Romain Grégoire (Groupama-FDJ); Geraint Thomas and Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers); Julius Johansen (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty); Jan Maas (Jayco-AlUla); Jacopo Mosca and Otto Vergaerde (Lidl-Trek); Andreas Kron (Lidl-Trek); Jorge Arcas (Movistar); Alan Jousseaume, Paul Ourselin (TotalEnergies).
That huge break took a while to go, almost 60km into the day's stage, but when it did go, it stayed away on the largely flat course until the final 6.2km climb.
It took until 25km to go for the first attack from the break, as Johansen attempted to get away before the climb, but this was quickly reeled in. Then Ourselin attacked just under 10km to go, but this too did not last; in its place the favourites for the day started to turn the screw, including Kron, Thomas, and Grégoire.
With 5km to go, Ganna put down the power which saw him win Tuesday's time trial to help his teammate Thomas, with riders losing contact to the leading bunch. Owsian, Godon and Sánchez were among those to go out the back.
As the gradient pushed north of 10% with 3km to go, there were nine left in the leading group, including Grégoire, Herrada, Kron and Caicedo, along with Ganna and Thomas, but all of Ganna's work ended up being in vain.
Under the flamme rouge, Caicedo attacked and quickly gained a small gap that looked for a while like it would stick. However, with 250m to go, Herrada went past him, and this move was the one which stuck.
Further down the climb, the GC battle was largely neutralised in the peloton, with Soudal-Quick Step blocking road. There were small attacks by Cian Uijtdebroeks (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Hugh Carthy (EF Education-EasyPost), but these largely came to nothing.
In the final kilometre, Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-Quick Step) pushed off the front, but he was shadowed by Kuss and the other leaders, with nothing separating them across the line.
Kuss remains in red with his 26-second lead on Marc Soler (UAE Team Emirates) intact. Evenepoel stays third overall at 1-09, with Primoz Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) fourth at 1-36.
"It wasn't too bad, I think everyone wanted to do a nice pace at the end, so it was a bit strange," the American said. "It took a while for the break to go but there were a lot of big, wide roads. There was an annoying wind all day, so it wasn't easy but it was all relative.
"As long as the wind doesn't blow too strong on the road to Zaragoza [on stage 12], it should be an okay day.
"You always have to believe. It's pretty simple: I give my best every day and I'm enjoying every day that I have the red jersey."
Thursday's stage will likely be a sprint finish to Zaragoza, before the Pyrenees loom into view on Friday.
Thank you for reading 20 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
Join now for unlimited access
Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1