A long-distance attack from Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) and Sergio Higuita (Bora-Hansgrohe) that ripped the Volta a Catalunya apart on stage 6 ended in the best way possible for the Ecuadorian as he out-duelled his Colombian rival for the stage win and moved into second place overall.
The two South Americans delivered one of the most exciting days of racing from recent stage races as they took on a seemingly hard, but not impossibly difficult, day through the sierras of southern Catalunya with no less than 130 kilometres to go.
Jointly defying the might of UAE Team Emirates and race leader João Almeida, after an epic, rain-soaked pursuit, some three hours later the two were still out there, with a scant minute to spare but still strength enough to go for the sprint.
Carapaz and Higuita delivered an impressively solid collaboration throughout the stage until the final metres, where in a vanishingly close sprint, Carapaz took his first victory since the Olympic road title last August.
"At the start, we had a plan to attack on the first climb because we knew the hardest part was early on, and we knew if the peloton got over that intact then there would be little chance of us staying away and it could all come down to a sprint," Carapaz said.
"So we went for it early on and whoever came with me, came with me. Higuita and I collaborated well and that was what allowed our break to stay away."
The lead reached a maximum of 3:30 some 70 kilometres from the end, and at some points it felt like it was touch-and-go if the break would stay away, particularly when some hard work behind from Uno-X took a minute off the gap.
But the breakaway duo persevered, and after his searing attack late on the summit finish Boí Taüll on stage 4 failed to work out, this time Carapaz could celebrate a win.
Riding his first event after a badly upset stomach that knocked him out of the Tirreno-Adriatico, Carapaz said that he knew he had to take the race day-by-day and see how it went.
"I knew that in the Volta a Catalunya I should be in good form, and I tried and almost got there, but even if that attack in the Pyrenees didn't succeed, it made me feel confident," he recounted.
"Then we knew that today was a really hard stage, with nearly 3,000 metres of vertical climbing and for a rider like me I knew this terrain suited me. So I feel very emotional about having managed to win this stage today."
Asked if at any point he and Higuita had discussed brokering a deal whereby he got the stage and Colombian the lead, Carapaz said, "we knew that he was ahead of me on the overall but on the two intermediate sprints, he took one and I took the other.
"We didn't fight for the mountains classification – we were both looking at GC. But right up to the final sprint there are seconds in play in the time bonuses which could be critical for the overall victory."
Now second overall at 16 seconds behind Higuita, Carapaz is still within touching distance of overall victory, with one technical, tough stage through Parc Montjuïc in Barcelona still to go.
"Really it's a complicated one, that final circuit always decides a lot and it's got a hard climb and a descent that can be dangerous in places," Carapaz said.
"But it'll be decisive so we'll do what we can, trying to win the race would be great, but if we end up on the podium, that'll be a great result as well."
Last year, Ineos Grenadiers swept the podium in Catalunya with Adam Yates, Richie Porte and Geraint Thomas, but this year they have steadily been losing riders, with former Catalunya winner Porte quitting sick on stage 2, then Michał Kwiatkowski and Pavel Sivakov abandoning on stages 3 and 4.
Of their four riders remaining in the race, Carapaz had two riders backing him in the chasing group in Carlos Rodríguez and Jonathan Castroviejo, while Luke Plapp, who later abandoned after working hard, proved crucial in launching the attack on the opening climb. But it was Carapaz who finished off their work.
"After a very tough start to the season, getting that stage win, being up there overall is very positive for me, both here and for my objectives further in the season," he concluded.
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