A fiery long-distance attack by Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) that briefly threatened to blow the Vuelta a España apart finally neither netted the Frenchman a stage win or much of an advance in the overall standings, but Pinot was happy with the final result nonetheless.
"A crazy stage. I tried everything I could. It didn't work out but at least I tried," Pinot said as he wheeled to a halt just a few metres after the finish, looking tired but by no means exhausted after nearly 100 kilometres off the front.
Pinot's move alongside 19 other riders, including teammate Léo Vincent, gained a maximum of four minutes, making the Frenchman 'virtual' race leader by around 90 seconds.
Although the move shattered in the closing kilometres and Pinot finished 10th, just 12 seconds ahead of the peloton of favourites, he seemed more than content with the outcome.
Indeed throughout the day, Pinot seemed to be constantly on the go - be it moving off the front, dragging the rest of the break back up to any other attackers or setting a high pace with his teammate Vincent.
Following a start to the Vuelta where he has rarely featured, this felt like Pinot was flexing his muscles in a way which - given he only really subsided in the final kilometres - will surely have unsettled the main GC contenders. If this was Pinot merely testing the water, what would an all-out attack be like?
"I was the best-placed rider on GC but I decided to go for a tactical game, like a game of poker," Pinot said. "It would have been great if it had worked out."
Pinot felt pleased, he said, that he is so clearly on the up. "The legs are good and that's good for the future," he agreed - after a rocky start to the Vuelta which saw him lose time in the crosswinds on stage 5 and lose nearly 30 seconds to the best-placed favourites on La Covatilla. But his high position overall, plus his solid qualities as a GC racer made it way too risky for Movistar to let him gain any real advantage.
Pinot's challenge was not just that Movistar were chasing behind. "It would have been great if the break had worked better together but there were too many riders from the GC teams for that to happen."
Of the top teams on GC, Pinot's presence in the break was marked by, amongst others, Omar Fraile (Astana), Franco Pellizotti (Bahrain-Merida), Sergio Henao (Team Sky), Movistar's Winner Anacona - who later said it had been the toughest day of the Vuelta so far for the Spanish team - and Mitchelton-Scott's Jack Haig.
Even so, at one point with around 70 kilometres to go, Pinot and Dylan Teuns (BMC Racing) looked to have given the rest of the move the slip. However, that two-up break was finally brought back, and at the end of the stage, when Jhonathan Restrepo (Katusha) and Alessandro de Marchi (BMC Racing) went clear, Pinot could not get across.
But after praising his teammate Vincent for "doing an excellent job, I will have to congratulate him," and despite his minimal GC gains, the Frenchman seemed happy simply to be in the fray all day, or as he put it, "I just enjoy racing like that." And, he concluded, "I will have to try again on another stage."
Battling for the overall does seem complicated, but not impossible for Pinot - should he finally go for GC - particularly with three big mountain stages and a time trial in the near offing. Furthermore, Pinot has also done well in the Vuelta GC in the past, taking seventh in 2013. But in any case, stage 11's performance confirmed Pinot is back with a capital C.
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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