Nairo Quintana (Movistar Team) gained a narrow but effective advantage on the first of three summit finishes in the Vuelta a Espana, moving ahead of nearly all of his GC rivals with just enough time to move onto the race's provisional podium behind current leader Jesus Herrada (Cofidis).
21st on the stage at 2:32, Quintana and Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) managed to go clear with roughly 1500 metres left to race of the viciously steep Camperona ascent, then shadowed each other to almost within sight of the finish.
Quintana then put in a late burst to gain six seconds on Yates, 25 seconds on Miguel Angel López (Astana Pro Team) and 35 on Wilco Kelderman (Team Sunweb). Not huge gaps, perhaps, but enough to confirm that Quintana will be the reference point on the two much tougher mountain stages to come this weekend.
"I'm pleased because this was a tough day and my rivals are in great shape," Quintana argued. "This is practically the first major mountain stage of the Vuelta a España and it's good to get some time."
"The team did well, we didn't want the break to get too much time so we had to work very hard to keep them under control."
La Camperona was the same climb where Quintana first took the Vuelta lead back in 2016 and distanced arch-rival Chris Froome (Team Sky) and once again it looks to have benefited the Colombian. This time round, he's now third overall, 1:50 down on Herrada.
Asked about having another British challenger, Simon Yates, who looks set - to judge from La Camperona at least - to be his most dangerous rival, Quintana, now trailing Yates by just eight seconds, dismissed the idea.
"He's not my only rival, this is an exceptionally tough climb and anybody can suffer here," he argued.
Quintana will move onto less familiar terrain on Saturday, when he and the Vuelta peloton tackle Los Praeres summit finish, a shorter but devastatingly steep climb in northern Spain.
"I don't know it, but I don't doubt it will be difficult," Quintana said. As for whether he thought Herrada would survive another day in red, the Colombian warned, "we'll see how he gets on, but he'll go on losing time. It's going to be close."
Whatever time gains Quintana may make in the Asturian stages of Praeres and Covadonga - and he could be in la roja of leader on Saturday evening - the Colombian will need all the advantage he can get ahead of next Tuesday's time trial, in theory the stage which favours him the least of all those to come.
First, in any case, will come two more big mountain stages, and after his strong rides in La Camperona and La Covatilla, where he also gained time on Yates, Quintana's position as top Vuelta a España favourite remains very much intact.
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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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