Rein Taaramäe (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert) may have won stage 3 and taken the lead on the first summit finish at this year's Vuelta a España but behind the Estonian the true overall contenders did battle on Picón Blanco with cracks appearing in a number or contenders and their chances over success in this year's race.
Climbing for 7.6km at 9.3 per cent, and with the gradient almost doubling at certain points of the mountain, the final climb of the stage was a day for the climbers and GC contenders, and although there were few if any attacks from the pre-race favourites there was plenty of evidence to suggest which riders are not in top condition.
Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) finished the stage in seventh place 1:48 down on Taaramäe and the Slovenian had a mixed day.
Although he only lost three seconds to Enric Mas (Movistar) who kicked clear near the summit the Jumbo-Visma leader did have to climb most of the final few kilometres without any teammates after Sepp Kuss, Sam Oomen and the rest of the Dutch team suffered with the gradient.
Roglič will be more than content to have lost the leader's jersey as it will allow his team to take a backseat for much of the first week, but there are legitimate questions over the form of the rest of his squad.
Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) barely showed his face near the front but he finished in the same time as Roglic. The Giro d'Italia winner had Adam Yates patrolling the front for most of the climb and the British climber matched several attacks but couldn't get a gap in the headwind.
It's wasn't a thoroughly convincing day for Ineos though with Olympic champion Richard Carapaz dropped once with 1.7km to go and then again inside the final few hundred meters. He lost a full minute to his main GC rivals, although his overall chances are still just about alive.
Yates, Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious), Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo), and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) all finished at the same time as Roglič and Bernal with Fabio Aru (Qhubeka NextHash) less than ten seconds back.
However, the rest of the GC names were cut adrift. David de la Cruz (UAE Team Emirates) lost another 12 seconds, while Hugh Carthy (EF Education-Nippo) conceded 21 seconds at the line.
Romain Bardet (Team DSM) and Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana-Premier Tech) were also losers on the stage, ceding 29 seconds. Meanwhile, Kuss finished 3:33 down to end his hopes of a high overall finish.
In the overall standings Taaramäe now has a 25 second lead over breakaway companion Kenny Elissonde with Roglič in third at 30 seconds. Mas is the closet pre-race favourite to Roglič, 15 seconds off the Jumbo-Visma rider with Miguel Angel López, Valverde, Ciccone and Bernal all within 27 seconds of the defending champion.
Landa is 24 seconds off Roglič, while Vlasov dropped from being one of the Slovenian’s closest rivals to 12th overall at 1:13 off the race lead. Yates rose 40 places in the overall but after his time losses on the first two stages he’s still in 16th. Meanwhile, Carthy now finds himself over 1:30 down on Roglič while Carapaz is 1:45 back.
|1||Rein Taaramäe (Est) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert||9:25:44|
|2||Kenny Elissonde (Fra) Trek-Segafredo||0:0:25|
|3||Primoz Roglic (Slo) Jumbo-Visma||0:0:30|
|4||Lilian Calmejane (Fra) AG2R Citroën Team||0:0:35|
|5||Enric Mas Nicolau (Spa) Movistar Team||0:0:45|
|6||Miguel Angel Lopez Moreno (Col) Movistar Team||0:0:51|
|7||Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team||0:0:57|
|8||Giulio Ciccone (Ita) Trek-Segafredo|
|9||Egan Bernal Gomez (Col) Ineos Grenadiers|
|10||Mikel Landa Meana (Spa) Bahrain Victorious||0:01:09|
|12||Aleksandr Vlasov (Rus) Astana-Premier Tech||0:01:13|
|13||Fabio Aru (Ita) Qhubeka NextHash||0:01:14|
|14||Romain Bardet (Fra) Team DSM||0:01:16|
|15||Damiano Caruso (Ita) Bahrain Victorious||0:01:20|
|16||Adam Yates (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers||0:01:21|
|24||Hugh Carthy (GBr) EF Education-Nippo||0:02:02|
|27||Richard Carapaz (Ecu) Ineos Grenadiers||0:02:15|
|29||Louis Meintjes (RSA) Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert||0:02:16|
|30||David de la Cruz (Spa) UAE Team Emirates||0:02:17|
|34||Guillaume Martin (Fra) Cofidis||0:02:30|
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