Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) superbly won stage six of the Volta a Catalunya on a day of high drama and tension by the Mediterranean as Sergio Higuita (Bora-Hansgrohe) moved into the race lead.
With overnight race leader João Almeida (UAE-Team Emirates) holding just a second's advantage to Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic) and multiple other riders within 30 seconds of Almeida, the penultimate stage was billed as a day for fireworks.
And it did not disappoint with Carapaz and Higuita attacking together after 35km of racing, the duo spectacularly holding their advantage all the way to the line amid a disjointed chase from Almeida and his team.
Carapaz won the stage into Cambrils some 48 seconds ahead of the peloton, but it was Higuita who took control of the race, the Colombian now holding a lead of 16 seconds to the stage winner and 52 seconds to Almeida.
When it became obvious that the duo would not be caught, Juan Ayuso of UAE-Team Emirates made his own move to try and force his way up the GC, before sitting up when appearing to be called back by his team.
At the end of the stage, Ayuso and Almeida were seen discussing what happened for 10 minutes with the team's manager Joxean Fernández Matxin, the young Spaniard explaining that he had communication issues.
The race concludes on Sunday with a circuit stage in Barcelona, where 24-year-old Higuita is all but certain to win his first ever European race outright.
How it unfolded
Persistent, at times heavy, rain greeted riders as soon they woke up in the morning and the wet weather was still present at the start in Salou.
A hilly day was in store for the riders, and with just 35 seconds separating race leader Almeida from Torstein Træen (Uno-X) in 10th, multiple GC riders were keen to go on the attack from the off.
Most notably, after 35km, the Ineos Grenadiers' duo of Carapaz (27 seconds adrift) and Luke Plapp made a move alongside Higuita (seven seconds adrift), with Almeida initially missing the chasing group.
But the Portuguese soon caught back onto the peloton, even as Carapaz and Higuita marched on together without Plapp, establishing a lead of around two minutes that later stretched to 3.30 with 70km left to race.
The pair collected bonus seconds at the first intermediate sprint, Carapaz reducing his deficit to Almeida by three seconds, and Higuita moving within five seconds to the leader.
Almeida's team were unable to bring the duo back, however, Rui Costa manning the front of the peloton but finding no help from Nairo Quintana's Arkéa-Samsic, or from Bahrain-Victorious whose Wout Poels sat 18 seconds back from Almeida after stage five.
At 40km to go, on the final categorised climb, Uno-X took to the head of the bunch, and the lead was reduced to two minutes with five kilometres still to ride until the top of the climb.
But when the Norwegian team handed control of the peloton back to UAE-Team Emirates, the gap stopped coming down, hovering around two minutes.
With 25km separating the two South Americans from the finish, Ayuso - who had earlier taken a bonus second in an intermediate sprint - attacked from the peloton, his UAE-Team Emirates teammate Almeida unable to follow him or the small group of five GC riders who set off in pursuit of the Spaniard.
At the second intermediate sprint, Higuita collected a further three bonus seconds to reduce his deficit to one second, while Carapaz earned two seconds and Ayuso took another second off his disadvantage to his own teammate.
Ayuso, aged just 19, built a lead of around 30 seconds, but just over 10km after his attack, it appeared that he was told by his team to sit up and wait for Almeida. Carapaz and Higuita, meanwhile, maintained an advantage of around 90 seconds.
A group of five, including Quintana, swallowed up the retreating Ayuso, but Almeida still remained more than 10 seconds in arrears, with the peloton accepting that Carapaz or Higuita would win the stage.
Into the final few kilometres and the chasers merged with the peloton, while at the finish Carapaz narrowly out-sprinted Higuita to take his second win of the season and move up to second overall.
Higuita took the honours as the new leader of the race, while Almeida was able to finish with the rest of the GC fraternity to drop to third overall.
Volta a Catalunya stage six: Salou > Cambrils, 169km
1. Richard Carapaz (Ecu) Ineos Grenadiers in 4-09.19
2. Sergio Higuita (Col) Bora-Hansgrohe, at same time
3. Kaden Groves (Aus) BikeExchange-Jayco, at 48s
4. Simone Velasco (Ita) Astana-Qazaqstan
5. Quentin Pacher (Fra) Groupama-FDJ
6. Jan Bakelants (Bel) Intermarche - Wanty - Gobert Materiaux
7. Fernando Barceló (Esp) Caja Rural - Seguros RGA
8. Dorian Godono (Fra) AG2R Citroën
9. Matthias Jensen Skjelmose (Den) Trek-Segafredo
10. Henri Vandenabeele (Bel) Team DSM, all at same time
General classification after stage six
1. Sergio Higuita (Col) Bora-Hansgrohe in 26-35.24
2. Richard Carapaz (Ecu) Ineos Grenadiers, at 16s
3. João Almeida (Por) UAE-Team Emirates, at 52s
4. Nairo Quintana (Col) Arkéa Samsic, at 53s
5. Juan Ayuso (Esp) UAE-Team Emirates, at 1-08
6. Wout Poels (Ned) Bahrain-Victorious, at 1-10
7. Ben O'Connor (Aus) AG2R Citroën, at same time
8. Tobias Halland Johannessen (Nor) Uno-X, at 1-13
9. Guilllaume Martin (Fra) Cofidis, at 1-16
10. Torstein Træen (Nor) Uno-X, at 1-27.
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Chris first started writing for Cycling Weekly in 2013 on work experience and has since become a regular name in the magazine and on the website. Reporting from races, long interviews with riders from the peloton and riding features drive his love of writing about all things two wheels.
Probably a bit too obsessed with mountains, he was previously found playing and guiding in the Canadian Rockies, and now mostly lives in the Val d’Aran in the Spanish Pyrenees where he’s a ski instructor in the winter and cycling guide in the summer. He almost certainly holds the record for the most number of interviews conducted from snowy mountains.
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