Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott) climbed into a familiar position in the general classification at the Vuelta a Espana Wednesday, finishing in a select GC group that also included race leader Chris Froome (team Sky), Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) and Michael Woods (Cannondale-Drapac).
Chaves, who finished third overall last year in Madrid, moved from sixth to third in this year's race during the stage 5 climb to Ermita Santa Lucía in Alcossebre, where he finished 16th, 4:31 down on stage winner Alexey Lutsenko.
"Today is a really really hard stage, but we are really happy," the Orica-Scott rider said. "We arrived in the top four for the GC guys on the first hard climb, and this is a good signal for the future."
Chaves now has plenty of friendly company in the top 10, with teammates Adam Yates sitting eighth at 50 seconds and Simon Yates in ninth at 1:09.
The 175.7km stage from Benicassim to Ermita Santa Lucía included four categorised climbs before the punchy uphill finish in Alcossebre, but the day's profile didn't deter the opportunists.
A group of 17 riders slipped away form the bunch in the early going, and Team Sky dutifully picked up the chase. Lutsenko and Marco Haller (Katusha-Alpecin) dropped their breakaway companions on the penultimate climb and approached the finale together, but Lutsenko had the better legs and dropped Haller on the ascent.
Meanwhile, the GC battle began to take shape behind as Froome, Contador and Woods joined Chaves in a select GC group behind the stage hunters. Despite attacks from both Contador and Froome near the finish, Chaves was able to stick with the group and finish on the same time, putting precious seconds into the likes of Fabio Aru (Astana), Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), Tejay Van Garderen (BMC Racing), Nicolas Roche (BMC Racing) and Wilco Kelderman (Team Sunweb).
"I hate these climbs because you can't take one pace," Chaves said. "Yes, I am Colombian and sometimes I can be explosive, but I prefer one pace. In climbs like this you rest and then boom, 20 percent, and rest again."
Chaves now trails Froome by 11 seconds in the overall and van Garderen by one second with eight more summit finishes looming.
"La Vuelta a Espana has just started now," he said. "I'm happy with the team we have here. We work without words, we [are] just looking and we know what is the next step. This is really special and I think this is what is happening in Orica-Scott."
Just behind the Chaves group, the Yates brothers finished among the remaining general classification contenders, 11 seconds behind for Adam and 21 seconds for Simon.
"It's been a long time since the Giro," said Adam Yates, who had just eight race days in his legs between the Giro finish and the Vuelta start. "I had a big training block with only Poland before this, but so far so good.
"I still feel a little bit rusty with so many short, sharp climbs, but I'm sure in the last week the legs will come," Adam Yates said. "We have Esteban in a good position and my brother is not far behind either, so we still have a lot of options to play in the days to come."
Simon Yates, who earned the jersey for best young rider at the Tour de France in July and has raced only the Classica San Sebastian since then, said although he's not at 100 per cent, the team is in good standing in the race so far.
"Esteban had a good ride, Adam also, so we are there or there-abouts," Simon Yates said. "I'm probably feeling better than I thought I would after the Tour de France. Of course, I'm not up there with the best guys right now, but that's OK, we're still in the position to play the roles how we wanted from the start."
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