A last gasp charge for the line at the summit of the Bola del Mundo netted Denis Menchov (Katusha) his first Grand Tour stage win since he conquered the 2009 Giro and his first victory in the Vuelta since he took a mountain-top stage win in Andorra way back in 2007, en route to his second overall victory.
A victory of this calibre has been a long time coming, then, for Menchov, but it wasn't entirely unexpected. Menchov has claimed wins on other monster climbs like the Mont Ventoux in his time, as well as winning the now-defunct Vuelta a los Puertos one-day race, a Spanish Classic that used to be held through the same sierras of Madrid where he took Saturday's victory.
For Katusha, a fourth stage win in the Vuelta a Espana was always going to be welcome, although their master plan for stage 20 of the race - that Menchov and Ignatyev would get in the morning break to allow Purito to bridge across - failed to work out.
"This was tougher than Cuitu Negru," Menchov said. "I was feeling strong in that last kilometre but you can't ever be sure of what's going to happen so close to the finish.
"For me personally, it's very important. My Vuelta's not been so great, so I was very pleased to be able to finish off the race with such a big success."
Asked why it had taken so long for him to win a race of this calibre since his Giro victory in 2009, Menchov said, "Things don't always work out as you'd like. This is cycling, it's like that. I've not been at 100 percent during this race." - which, he said, was an explanation for why he had not been able to support Rodríguez on more of the crucial mountain stages.
"The worst day I had was when Joaquim lost the red jersey and I wanted to work more for him then. We should be pleased, he's done a very good Vuelta and we've fought a lot. He could have finished higher up, perhaps, if things had been different, but the race is what it is."
Rodríguez himself was insistent, however, that "the best rider has won overall. I'm happy and proud with how I've performed. I attacked today to see if I could pull some time back, when I saw that Valverde was in difficulties, but even if that didn't work out, I'm pleased with my performance.
"I knew this was going to be tough and I didn't trust Purito," Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) added. "In any case, I'm satisfied. I didn't come to this race with the idea of fighting for the overall." Valverde was a last-minute replacement as leader after Juanjo Cobo, the 2011 winner and his Movistar teammate, fell ill.
"If we take away those 50 seconds I lost in Ezcaray [because of an echelon] then I'd have been very close to Contador."
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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