An attack by Tinkoff's Alberto Contador backed by Movistar's Nairo Quintana has produced a huge change in the overall classification of the Vuelta a Espana on stage 15. Quintana took a step further forward while Chris Froome (Team Sky) saw a major dent appear in his chances of overall victory.
Contador attacked from the gun with two teammates, Ivan Rovny and Yuri Trofimove, and when Quintana came across with Rubén Fernandez and time trialling powerhouse Jonathan Castroviejo, it was clear that a major battle was about to commence.
Tinkoff sources told Cyclingnews that the attack had actually taken place on a downhill section, with a tailwind, but that they had seen in a previous recon. And that on such exposed terrain there was the risk of splits.
There were shades of Contador's dramatic attack in the Vuelta 2012 all over again, when he seized the race lead at Fuente De by attacking on a seemingly uncomplicated stage, as well as on stage 13 of the 2013 Tour when he and Tinkoff forged an echelon-based attack on Sky in the flatlands of central France and gained time on Froome. On this occasion, as Contador constantly passed up and down the line of breakaways and drove away on the climbs, it was clear, once again, who was the ringleader of the ambush.
When the dust finally settled on the stage, Contador crossed the line in sixth place, 34 seconds down on Quintana. Overall, Contador has now moved up from sixth to fourth overall and just five seconds down on Esteban Chaves i third. Having lost time on the last part of the ascent of Aramon Formigal, it is not clear if the Spaniard will be able to defend that position on the climbs to come.
"I'm happy because the result on [Saturday's stage 14] did not really correspond with my form, I felt better than that," Contador said.
"Today I wasn't feeling so optimistic because the climbs weren't so hard, but I went out from the gun without knowing who I had on my wheel. I knew it was a dangerous gamble, but we got a great result. I had no idea, though, who was following me when I attacked.
"I got cramps in the last kilometre, but it was a nice spectacle. These sorts of stages are the kind that create a fanbase in the sport. I'll sleep a lot better tonight than I did yesterday."
He explained that he would have liked to have fought for the stage win when Quintana and eventual winner Gianluca Brambilla (Etixx-QuickStep) broke away, but he explained that he had used up too much energy in the first hour and a half, where the gap between the break and chasing group rose to nearly three minutes at one point.
"Looking at the overall, I have to be realistic, this year my two big objectives [the Tour and Vuelta] are not working out as I'd like. I lost Paris-Nice and Catalunya by just a few seconds. But I'm already thinking about next year.
"The nice thing is we tore up the script. We [Tinkoff] don't have many climbers, we don't have the power of Sky or Movistar, but they gave it everything and they did a spectacular job."