A show of strength from the Movistar Team on the Vuelta a Espana's first summit finish has proved a resounding success, enabling the Spanish team both to net the overall lead and simultaneously boost their chances overall.
Ruben Fernandez bolted away - or at least as much as you can do that on a climb as fearsomely steep as Ezaro - with a late attack that netted the him the overall lead as well as second on the stage.
Alejandro Valverde may be riding his third Grand Tour, but he still crossed the line just behind, in third - suggesting, yet again, that he is in at least as good form as some of his top rivals and not just here as a support role for teammate Nairo Quintana. Then the Colombian rolled across in sixth at 32 seconds behind Geniez.
Overall, apart from the lead for Fernandez, Movistar have considerable strength in numbers on the highest segment of the GC. Valverde is now second at seven seconds - having taken third and a time bonus, just as he did on the same climb in the Vuelta four years ago - and Quintana fifth at 17 seconds. All that was lacking was the stage win.
Quite apart from the results, there was also an impressive display of force by Movistar on the lower slopes of the climb and which confirms the Spanish team, together with Sky, as one of the strongest squads, if not the strongest, on the Vuelta this year.
Valverde was delighted for his teammate Fernández, who also hails from Valverde's home region of Murcia in south-east Spain. "I could not be happier for my fellow country-man," Valverde said, "He carried out a brilliant ascent, in what was a really hard climb. He's not somebody who's just jumped out of nowhere, he's a quality rider. He worked hard for us and then he had the strength to go and look for the lead."
Valverde was equally pleased that, as he saw it,"we dropped both [Alberto] Contador and [Chris] Froome, although finally the Englishman [Froome] caught us again." Froome was simply riding steadily, as is his wont, rather than actually cracking.
Quintana brushed aside his time loss and his rather unusual decision to stop when he was ahead of the rest of the favourites on the climb with only Esteban Chaves (Orica-Bike Exchange), pointing out that "we've seen that Rubén has come into this really strong and in a great state of form. He did a brilliant climb, he stepped up the pace for the race leaders and then he went and got the lead himself. It's a very good result."
"The seconds we've lost on Froome mean nothing and we've opened up yet more of a gap on Contador. I can still feel the Tour in my legs, though,, so we'll take things on the day by day."
Fernandez himself was delighted with the high point of his professional career so far, as the 25-year-old put it "My first big goal was to work for Quintana and Valverde, but they saw I was strong and told me to go for it, and that's what I did."
"I will try and hold onto the lead," he said, before claiming that his decision to raise his arms as he crossed the line was not because he thought he had the stage win, but because "I was so pleased to get that lead. So I decided to celebrate it anyway."
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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