A measured response from Chris Froome (Team Sky) on the Lagos de Covadonga during stage 10 saw the Briton drop back from the group of favourites early on the toughest climb of the Vuelta a Espana so far before returning to contention in dramatic style.
TV images showed triple Tour de France winner off the back of the Covadonga climb with around 10 kilometres to go and as Movistar cranked up the pace. Froome lost nearly a minute at one point on the Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Alberto Contador group.
But then after using team-mates Pete Kennaugh and Leopold König for solid initial support to start to claw back time, from then on the clock was slowly ticking in reverse as Froome began cutting back on the gap. Froome steadily moved past dropped riders, gradually squeezing the margin on Contador and Quintana to a bare 20 seconds.
As Froome continued his relentless clawback, the Colombian dropped Contador with around 3.5 kilometres to go, and around a kilometre later, Froome passed the Spaniard too, with only Robert Gesink (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Quintana left to beat ahead of him on the climb.
By the finish the gap opened slightly between Quintana and Froome, to 25 seconds between the stage winner and the Briton as Froome reached Gesink. The Netherlands rider then passed him again, but Froome, in any case, had not only limited the damage inflicted by Quintana, but also managed to open a small gap on Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and a larger one on Contador and the rest of the field.
"I just rode the climb at the best pace I felt was the efficient way to get up there and according to how I thought the legs were feeling," Froome, third overall at 58 seconds on Quintana, told a small group of reporters later.
"Nairo is in great form and we've seen that over the last few days. I've got to be happy with where I'm at, just keep doing my thing and hope that over the next few days I find either an opportunity to go for it or defend my position that we're in and wait for the time trial."
Froome said that he had tackled the climb in a way that was "regardless of what was going on around me. I was just riding at the pace that I felt was most appropriate for a climb, for a 35 minute effort and I could see guys I was going past being blown from the front and they maybe started off a bit fast, so I used my team-mates the best I could and they did a great job today.
"It was good for the morale [to pass riders], but I knew that Quintana was a good 45 seconds up the road and that was pretty tough too, not having to chase after that and respond straightaway. But for this point in the season, after the Tour or the Olympics , I'm just hanging on to what I have left and I'm trying to get through the best I can."
Froome recognised that should the margin between himself and Quintana remain roughly as they stand all the way through to the 37 kilometre time trial on stage 19, starting that TT with a 58 second margin "is a big gap. If I can get more time back that would obviously be ideal, but if not, I will have to make do with what I have got."
The Briton denied that he was - as is so often speculated - "riding by numbers"
"Not necessarily," Froome said. "I was riding more by feeling today, just riding with what I felt I could do on the climb in the most efficient way to get up there and not to lose every more time.
"I mean, who knows, maybe if I'd gone and really pushed myself at the beginning, I would've lost even more time. I felt like that was the quickest way for me to get up there today and I think at this point I really have to calculate my efforts."
Froome also commented that his more measured effort was a reaction to having ridden much harder, earlier on, as he did on the Alto de La Camperona and where he lost time late to both Quintana and, albeit only eight seconds, to Contador.
"Like I saw a couple of days ago when I really got stuck into the climb [of Alto de La Camperona] earlier on, I paid for it afterwards. I think today [stage 10] was definitely a more measured effort. Also in the past, every time I have ridden this climb, I have blown, so I feel like today was a better effort than I have done in the past."
Froome now has a rest day prior to tackling a climb which will bring him good memories - the Peña Cabarga, where he beat Juan Jose Cobo back in the 2011 Vuelta for his first Grand Tour stage win, en route to a breakthrough second place overall behind Cobo and ahead of team-mate Bradley Wiggins.
Thank you for signing up to Cycling News. You will receive a verification email shortly.
There was a problem. Please refresh the page and try again.