After almost a week of leading the Vuelta a España, Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEdge) finally threw in the towel on the short but painfully difficult climb of Cumbre del Sol and dropped to third overall.
A double stage winner at El Caminito del Rey and again at Cazorla, Chaves responded well to the early moves on the Cumbre del Sol climb but suddenly came to the end of his strength less than a kilometre to go. The young Colombian crossed the line in 15th place at 59 seconds, and drops to third overall, with the same deficit of 59 seconds behind Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin). As what could be seen as a consolation prize, he remains the leader of the points classification.
The Orica-GreenEdge rider paid tribute to the rider who wrested the red leader jersey from his shoulders for a second time this week. "Tom Dumoulin did an incredible ride today," Chaves recognised. "He's a really strong guy and I want to say congratulations to him. He won both the stage and the jersey."
"As for me, I'm tired and disappointed, I lost the red jersey with about 500 metres to go. But in any case, I tried, and I gave it my best effort. I said I was going to spend every last gram of energy in my body and that's what I did today."
Chaves says he will try to fight back in the days to come, with the next big mountain test on Wednesday in Andorra. Alejandro Valverde, for one, has warned that Chaves' performance was so impressive he cannot be ruled out as a major contender for the race overall.
The Colombian was determined to return to the leader's red jersey after it was briefly wrested from his shoulders by Dumoulin earlier this week, and his refusal to accept defeat when he crashed and was dropped on Saturday suggests he will do his utmost to return to the fray.
But regardless of what happens in the next fortnight, Chaves has had a hugely impressive first week of the Vuelta, becoming an overnight sports star in his country thanks to his reign as leader of the Spanish Grand Tour.
After a series of victories and various riders holding the lead in the first week of the Giro d'Italia - Simon Gerrans, Michael Matthews and Simon Clarke, Orica-GreenEdge can savour their second hugely successful Grand Tour of the 2015 season thanks to Chaves and Caleb Ewan. With three stage wins as well as Chaves' leadership already in the bag and with two weeks to go, even more triumphs may yet come their way in the Vuelta a España.