Another long break proved to be successful, and David Garcia of Xacobeo Galicia took advantage of the situation. The original large group had disintegrated near the end, and he broke off from the remains of the group with three kilometres to go, to take the solo win by 17 seconds ahead of Nick Nuyens of Cofidis and Juan Manual Garate of Quick Step. Behind them - way behind them - the Astana-led peloton took its time, having an easy ride on a sunny day, and came in 14 minutes later with Alberto Contador still in the overall lead.
"This is practically unimaginable," said the overjoyed winner. "At the beginning of the season I was thinking about winning a stage race. I did that with the Tour of Turkey. I am feeling strong - I was already in the break yesterday - so I knew I could win, but of course it also always takes a bit of luck. I hope this victory helps keep the team alive. It was not easy to get into today's break. It should help cycling in Galicia."
Nuyens had hoped to take another stage win for Cofidis, but had to settle for second. "The day went good, really good for me," he said. "But in the end it was three Spanish guys against one Belgian. I think I was the strongest, but you can't buy anything with that. I felt strong the whole day."
Third-place finished Garate wanted a Spaniard to win, but was thinking more of either himself or David Arroyo of Caisse d'Epargne. "I had really great legs today. But it is also a lottery. We were together with [David] Arroyo, who didn't work with us. I told him 'you or I?' because there wasn't anybody else."
Matti Breschel of CSC-Saxo Bank was also in the break, and finished over 1.30 back. "It was a pretty tough and long day. I am glad I made it to the final attack. The last climb was maybe 500m too long for me. In the end we raced full gas." Asked about the weather, Breschel said, "Yes, it was a warm day, very warm. But usually I don't suffer from the heat, more from the climbs," he added with a smile.
CSC's Carlos Sastre defended his third place overall, which he hopes to maintain through to Madrid. He said that while he himself had no problems on the day, "I think it was an extremely difficult stage." He noted, "We really flew along for the first 50km until the escape formed. We had a realistically tough race, practically without one flat metre, where the entire peloton really suffered."
The former escape group members came in up to 6'59 minutes after the winner, and the first part of the peloton was even further back. Kevin de Weert of Cofidis was followed by four Astana riders, including gold jersey wearer Alberto Contador, across the finish line 14'23 minutes after Garcia Dapena.
The escape group got away on the first climb of the day, at 80 km. Matti Breschel (CSC), José Luis Arrieta (AG2R), Olivier Bonnaire (Bouygues), David Arroyo and Xabier Zandio (Caisse d'Epargne), Sébastien Minard and Nick Nuyens (Cofidis), Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel), Philippe Gilbert (Francaise des Jeux), Paolo Tiralongo (Lampre) Heinrich Haussler (Gerolsteiner), Alessandro Vanotti (Liquigas), Juan Manuel Garate (Quick Step), Theo Eltink (Rabobank), David Garcia Dapena (Xacobeo-Galicia), Pieter Jacobs (Silence), and Mikhail Ignatiev (Tinkoff) took off and quickly built up a lead.
Every team, except Astana, Andalucia-Cajasur and Milram was represented in the break, and none of the riders was a threat to the leaders. The peloton relaxed and let them go, enjoying a day in the sun and having an easy day after the difficult weekend in the mountains.
The gold jersey team did have one scare on the day, though, as Astana's Contador went down. He was quickly back on his bike with no major damage, although he did go back to the race doctor to have a knee looked at.
"This is a sport where anything can happen on any given day," said Contador. "Luckily there are no broken bones, but of course I have some soreness and bruising on my left shoulder and left knee.
"I may have to change my sleeping position, but we will do our best to continue the defense of the gold jersey."
With about 44 km to go, Arrieta took off, and although he stayed ahead for nearly 30 km, he was never able to build up a full minute's advantage. With 15 km to go, the pack caught him again. Garate took off with 12 km to go, which put an end to the group. Only Arroyo, Garcia Dapena and Nuyens were able to go with him, and they stayed together until Garcia Dapena's further attack at the 3km marker. The other three hesitated, with none willing to lead the chase. Nuyens finally tried to bridge up, but it was too late.
Stage 16 - September 16: Ponferrada - Zamora, 186.4km
The 186.4-kilometre stage 16 will start out with the category three Alto del Acebo. After that the rest of the stage is mostly downhill. The wind off the coast will benefit formations of echelons.
Sixth time finishing town Zamora is not far from Portugal. With 24 Romanesque churches of the 12th and 13th centuries it has been called a "museum of Romanesque art." The flat run-in will favour a bunch sprint.