"How many attacks were there? 32? 33?" Joaquim ‘Purito' Rodríguez (Katusha) asked with a grin after Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff) launched a blistering series of accelerations on the steepest segments of the Lagos de Covadonga in stage 15 of the Vuelta a España.
Although ultimately unsuccessful, Rodriguez said that Contador's multiple charges had had him ‘on the rivet' and on hearing that Contador was on a bad day, instantly responded that "heaven help us when he's on a good one, then!"
"There were a couple of moments when I simply couldn't respond," Rodriguez said, "he was dominating the race in the way that he wanted to. If he'd done one more attack then I would have been suffering like a dog."
"Fortunately I remembered from other years [Rodriguez rode up Lagos in 2010] that there are some false flats and descents, otherwise I'd have been in real trouble. Just as well I have that thing where I can can dig deep for 500 metres and hang on."
Looking ahead at Monday's ‘queen stage', Rodriguez predicted that "it's going to be mad if it's anything like today. I had thought about using a 39x28 gear but they told me to use the gears I had on the Angliru."
His humour, though, remains intact despite the hard racing: "Valverde has won one Vuelta, Contador's lost count of what he's won...this morning I said to Valverde, ‘come on, let me win something, please.'"
Stage winner Antonio Piedra (Caja Rural) effectively justified his team's invitation to the Vuelta in one fell swoop with his well-timed solo ride to victory on the Lagos.
The 26-year-old's biggest win to date was a stage of the Tour of Portugal in 2009. Racing his fourth Vuelta, his best result in Spain's top race prior to Sunday's ascent to Covadonga, was twelfth in a hilly stage to Murcia won by Simon Gerrans way back in 2009.
"Winning on a climb as important as this is one of those stages you'll remember for the rest of your life, no matter how much it hurt at the time," Piedra said. "You forget all the bad days when you win a stage like this."
"When we [he and team-mate David De La Fuente, also in the break] saw that the bunch was going to let us go clear, then we started to work really hard."
"Then with ten kilometres to go, I thought about giving it one good go and hoping it would work out. Taking a Vuelta stage - success just doesn't get any bigger for us [Caja Rural] than this."