Roberto Heras (Liberty Seguros) has stamped himself as the top favourite for this year's Vuelta by winning the first mountain stage to Valdelinares in an impressive style. After his Liberty Seguros team destroyed the peloton on the final climb, Heras rode the others in the GC group off his wheel one by one. The last man standing was Denis Menchov (Rabobank), who hung on until 1 km to go, losing 13 seconds to the champion at the finish. That meant that Heras took over the leader's jersey by six seconds from Menchov, as this morning's leader Brad McGee lost nearly 12 minutes today.
The 217 km stage was marked by a series of early attacks and splits in the peloton, but it wasn't until around 60 km to go when a decent breakaway established itself. Initiated by Koos Moerenhout (Davitamon-Lotto), the break also contained Jakob Piil (CSC), Eric Leblacher (Crédit Agricole), Benoît Joachim (Discovery), Nacor Burgos (Relax), and Devis Miorin (Liquigas). Piil dropped everyone save for Joachim and Leblacher on the penultimate climb, then opened up a gap when the other two missed a corner on the descent. He started the last ascent with 3'19 over the peloton, which was enough to take him until 2 km to go when Heras and co. caught him.
After Scarponi had reduced the main group to just eight riders, Heras took over at 3 km left to drop them all. Menchov and Carlos Garcia Quesada held on for a while, but when the road steepened, Heras flew.