While the first 10 stages of the Vuelta a España haven't created unassailable gaps in the general classification, a team time trial and a series of uphill finishes have kept the excitement level high and led to several changes in the race lead.
The variety of terrain in the final kilometers of each stage have also allowed breakaways to succeed on the majority of the stages, leading to six first-time Grand Tour stage winners.
After Astana's command performance in the first stage TTT, where Janez Brajkovic took the first red leader's jersey, the honour was passed along to his team leader Vincenzo Nibali on the very early category 1 finishing climb the next day where Nicolas Roche (Saxo-Tinkoff) unshackled himself from the label of chronic under-achiever and finally won his first Grand Tour stage.
Another uphill finish on stage 3 should have been the domain of Philippe Gilbert, who has increasingly suffered the curse of the rainbow jersey and has been unable to win a single race this year. Instead, the race favourites turned the stage into a chance to gain valuable seconds. Chris Horner (RadioShack) won his first Grand Tour stage and took the race lead, while climbers such as Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r) and, to a lesser extent, Sergio Henao (Sky) lost time.
A short finishing ramp on stage 4 also proved more difficult than it should have on paper, with Horner relinquishing the race lead and Daniel Moreno (Katusha) claiming the sprint - the first of two stage victories for the Spaniard.
Finally, there was a sprint on stage 5, which went to Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) by a clean set of wheels over Max Richeze and Gianni Meersman. On the next day, Tony Martin went on a time trial training binge, going solo for 175km before being caught with just meters left to go. The stage went instead to Michael Mørkøv (Saxo-Tinkoff) in his first major Grand Tour success, but it was vastly overshadowed by the German's herculean effort.
Zdenek Stybar made up for his Omega Pharma-QuickStep teammate's loss by out-powering the world champion to win the next stage in what would be Nibali's last day in red.
On yet another uphill finish, this one a tough category 1, Leopold König proved to be king of the hill, finishing off a day of hard work by his NetApp-Endura team. Moreno came in just behind, while Roche was across just seconds later to take the race lead from Nibali, who showed uncharacteristic weakness in the final few hundred meters.
A category 2 mountain and an uphill run to the line went Moreno's way on stage 9, and the Katusha rider cruised to another stage win and a brief stint in the red jersey, which he lost to a rampaging Horner on the 10th stage before the rest day. The American earned himself a solid 48-second advantage on the hors categorie Alto Hazallanas over Nibali, and 43 seconds in the GC, but claimed to be expecting to lose the race lead in the time trial.
Valverde, Roche, Basso and Rodriguez limited their losses, but only Nibali and Roche are within a minute of the red jersey. The suspense as to who will be the next race leader will end tomorrow, when the 38.8km time trial takes place, and then the sprinters should have two days to fight it out for stage wins before the race heads back to the mountains on stage 14.