Team Movistar's Alejandro Valverde won stage three of the Vuelta and in doing so took the overall lead of the race after a thrilling finish to the day.
The day started with a breakaway of eight men including Philippe Gilbert and fellow Belgian Pim Ligthart. It was a productive day for Ligthart, who gained 11 points over the first three climbs to take the lead in the king of the mountains competition.
With 7km left and the breakaway reeled in, the racing seriously began in earnest. Niki Terpstra of Quick Step tried to escape the bunch and take the red jersey after failing to do so yesterday. The peloton gave him no room to maneuver and he was quickly swallowed up.
One of the bigger surprises was that two-time winner of the race Denis Menchov was unable to keep up with the pace early on the final climb. He fell off the back with just over 5km to go and was joined by the outgoing leader of the race Jonathan Castroviejo.
After struggling in the team time trial, reigning champion Juan Jose Cobo again found the going tough up the category one climb so it was left to his teammate Alejandro Valverde to make the first attack from the potential challengers.
The move was quickly followed by the heavyweights of the race; Alberto Contador, Chris Froome and Joaquim Rodriguez. Contador then attacked and managed to dislodge Froome from the group, but the Brit managed to make his way back to the wheel.
With the four still together the pace slowed allowing the chasing group, including Igor Anton of Euskaltel, to make contact. This was only brief, however, as Contador put in another attack which only Rodriguez, Valverde and Froome had an answer for.
After another lull in the pace Contador showed he's definitely back with another huge attack which yet again had Chris Froome in difficulty. The Team Sky leader managed to haul himself up the climb, though, and again made contact with the leaders.
The stage win was left to the group of four and it was Rodriguez who led out the sprint to be pipped on the line by Valverde in a photo finish. Confusion reigned as it looked like Rodriguez had been given the win at first, only for the result to be amended after the replays were consulted.
Chris Froome came home third, beating Contador into fourth. Yesterday's winner John Dekenkolb will stay in the points jersey but Valverde is now level on points with the German.
The win gave Valverde 12 bonus seconds and puts him 18 seconds ahead of teammate Beñat Intxausti overall. Rodriguez is now 19 seconds back in third with Froome 20 seconds back in fourth and Contador a further four seconds back in fifth.
The top 10 in the general classification (Courtesy of lavuelta.com)
|1||9||VALVERDE, Alejandro||MOV||8h 46' 56''|
|2||4||INTXAUSTI, Beñat||MOV||+ 18''|
|3||101||RODRIGUEZ, Joaquin||KAT||+ 19''|
|4||181||FROOME, Christopher||SKY||+ 20''|
|5||201||CONTADOR, Alberto||STB||+ 24''|
|6||166||MOLLEMA, Bauke||RAB||+ 28''|
|7||161||GESINK, Robert||RAB||+ 28''|
|8||188||URAN, Rigoberto||SKY||+ 30''|
|9||107||MORENO, Daniel||KAT||+ 33''|
|10||71||ANTON, Igor||EUS||+ 46''|