The third consecutive summit finish in the second week of this year's Vuelta a España proved to be another tentative battle between the overall contenders, but the iconic Lagos de Covadonga failed to reveal a clear favourite for the overall title.
Nairo Quintana (Movistar) laid down a few of his own blows on the 11-kilometre climb with teammate Alejandro Valverde proving a useful foil once again. In the end, the Colombian was distanced in the final metres, crossing the line six seconds behind his compatriot Miguel Angel Lopez and four seconds back on Yates.
It was another day of fine margins for the overall contenders with fewer than 45 seconds splitting the top four. Quintana kept hold of his third place but now sits 33 seconds back on Yates, with Lopez just 10 seconds behind him in fourth.
"We were all on a similar level. It was a game of three [between Quintana, Lopez and Yates -ed], and in the end, we were pretty similar. I played my strategy and Lopez played his cards right and it was a well-deserved victory. The whole team really worked hard and in the end, we couldn't take the victory," Quintana told reporters of the stage, mistakenly thinking that Lopez had taken the stage win rather than Pinot.
With Pinot already up the road, Lopez darted off the front of the small group of favourites with just over a kilometre remaining. Behind the Astana rider, there was some discord with nobody willing to mount a chase. Yates angrily waved his arm and would bemoan the lack of co-operation in the group. Quintana was not bothered by the Mitchelton-Scott rider's frustration with him, saying it was up to him to look after his own interests.
"Yates got angry but he is the leader and he has to defend himself," Quintana said. "There was some tension but everyone has to defend themselves, look for seconds and not lose anything. Finally, he is the leader and he has to defend himself."
Despite giving away a little more rope to Yates in the finale, Quintana remained upbeat about his and the team's prospects in the next week with Valverde still sitting in second overall at 26 seconds behind Yates.
"We carry on like this, we gave away a few more seconds but bit by bit we will see the way that people are able to recover," he said. "It is important to know that we are on a good level, like we saw today, and that together with Alejandro we can continue like this.
"We will continue to fight with good sensations and now we will try to make a good time trial, hopefully, better than our rivals."
The Vuelta a España will take a break on Monday for the second rest day of the race before ramping up once again with a 32-kilometre time trial into Torrelavega.