A well-calculated effort by Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) has netted the Frenchman a classy summit victory ahead of no less a star climber than Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo), in what is Pinot's first win since the French National Championships last June.
Pinot had told Cyclingnews before the Ruta del Sol began he was concerned about his form after falling sick in the Vuelta a Valencia with gastroenteritis. But after taking seventh in the opening stage of the Ruta at Granada five seconds behind Contador, at Mancha Real the French climber has gone six places better.
The 26-year-old calculated his strength brilliantly, letting Contador open up a sizable gap before slowly but surely reaching the Spaniard with less than 500 metres to go. Then, with a sudden surge round Contador's right, he opened up a two second gap for the win.
"I was able to calculate my strength well on the climb and I certainly felt better than on stage 1 and was well supported by my team-mates all day," Pinot told reporters at the finish. "I suffered a bit when Contador attacked, but then getting past the other riders on the climb" - amongst them Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Wout Poels (Team Sky) - "boosted my confidence and I started to track him down."
"Beating Contador," he said, "was something very special. He's an amazing climber, and I've learned a lot from him. It feels very special."
Pinot is now second overall, three seconds down on Contador, which - should he hold onto that position - would be France's best result in the Ruta del Sol since Laurent Jalabert in 1998. However, given his time trialling skills, it is possible Pinot overhauls Contador in the stage 3 time trial and becomes the first ever French rider to take the venerable five-day Spanish stage race in its 92-year history.
"I had good legs, and now what I'll have to do is try to see what I can do in the time trial," Pinot observed. "There are a lot of big names here, and it'll be a real battle. We're all more or less at the same level in terms of time trialling and pretty much tied on time, so that's going to be tough. But if I feel as good tomorrow [Friday] as I do today, then I can hope for a good result."