World champion Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) fired a warning shot to his rainbow jersey rivals as he won the stage ten individual time trial, while Alberto Contador moved into the race lead.
Martin, who will defend his world title in Spain, in Ponferrada, later this month, beat his chief rival Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) by just 11 seconds on a difficult course between Real Monasterio de Santa Maria de Veruela and Borja.
The victory, Martin’s seventh individual time trial of the year, came as the race lead changed hands once again – Contador the beneficiary on a day which saw previous leader Nairo Quintana (Movistar) crash heavily and a below-par Chris Froome (Team Sky) also lose time to his rivals.
It was always expected to be a stage which blew apart the GC, but Quintana – who had initially started well – saw his GC ambitions seemingly obliterated as he collided heavily with a barrier.
Froome, meanwhile, was off the pace too as Contador and Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) made big gains too.
How it unfolded
Of the early finishers, Luke Rowe (Team Sky) had posted the fastest time, but his time in the hot seat – after posting a mark of 52.49 – was brief, as the time to beat tumbled regularly.
Fellow Brit David Millar (Garmin-Sharp) also posted an encouraging time, recapturing some of his time trial form by posting what was initially the third best time.
Both Italian champion Adriano Malori (Movistar) and Jesse Sergent (Trek Factory Racing) had gone quicker, however, with the New Zealander’s mark of 48.15 taking more than 90 seconds off the previous best time.
Belgian champion Kristof Vandewalle (Trek Factory Racing) had no such luck, however, paying for a slow start on the early climb, which was always likely to trouble him, and being unable to recover on the descent.
Cancellara, however, destroyed the benchmark as he looked to build form ahead of the World Championships, for which he too will return to Spain later this month.
Spartacus made light work of the tricky climb, which was making for a slower ride than had been anticipated and had turned what was initially an eight-second advantage over then-leader, team-mate Jesse Sergent into a 42-second lead at the second time check.
He maintained his speed on the technical run-in too, stopping the clock in 47.13 – 1’02” quicker than Sergent.
Cancellara’s mark stood early on – Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing) having looked like threatening it at the first time check before the Australian faded on the long, technical descent.
However, with world champion Martin, in the rainbow jersey, already on the course, Cancellara’s time soon appeared vulnerable.
Martin, whose dominance in the discipline at the World Championships looks set to continue in Ponferrada, powered through the first section of the course to shave six seconds off Cancellara’s time and continued to improve.
At the second time check, the Panzerwagen – who has showcased his brilliant descending skills already this year at the Tour of the Basque Country – had improved his advantage to 16 seconds.
The gap fell slightly in the final few kilometres, on the technical run-in, but Martin nevertheless set a new fastest time of 47.02.
Though having overcome his chief rival in Cancellara, Martin could only watch as the GC men began their efforts however – with Chris Froome (Team Sky) having previously beaten the German against the clock at the Tour de Romandie.
Other men to threaten the German included Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), who was just seven seconds back at the first time check, and Jerome Coppel (Cofidis), who took ten seconds off Martin’s mark.
The technical descent, as it had with so many before him, put paid to the Frenchman’s chances though – losing 54 seconds come the second time check and eventually finishing sixth.
Evans, by contrast, maintained some of his speed – finishing provisionally third – but it meant Martin’s was still the time to beat as the GC contenders began their efforts.
With less than two minutes separating the top 16 riders overall prior to the stage, the better time trialists among them seized their chance to bolster their overall standings.
Uran was one of those, and for a long time the Colombian looked like he could even repeat his Giro d’Italia stage victory and snatch the stage – particularly as he posted the same time as Martin at the second time check.
He could not maintain his pace in the final section however, the German having proved his power earlier in the day as Uran settled for what was a provisional third place.
Froome had been another expected to challenge but from the off it was apparent he was struggling – conceding 18 seconds to the impressive Samuel Sanchez (BMC Racing) at the first time check and losing more time as the course wore on.
Contador and Valverde seized their advantage, the latter setting a new mark at the first time check of 19:37 before Contador took a further seven seconds off.
Another to lose out was Johan Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEDGE) who lost nearly six minutes to Martin, while Robert Gesink (Belkin) and Warren Barguil (Giant-Shimano) also lost time early on.
Gesink recovered, showcasing his descending skills and prowess against the clock on the second part of the course to cut his losses.
A bigger disaster, however, befell red jersey Quintana as the Movistar man – who had started well on the uphill section – misjudged a bend.
The Colombian badly misjudged the line as he rode into a high-speed corner, colliding with the barrier as a result and looking in some pain as he remained down.
More than 90 seconds had passed before he gingerly remounted a new bike, skinsuit badly torn, and re-started his effort – any slim hopes he had of retaining the red jersey having been abruptly ended.
Instead, attention turned to his rivals, with Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) among those to take a bike change at the top of the climb as he cut his losses well to finish just 1’49” behind Martin.
Froome, however, continued to struggle – his time of 48.34 being more than a minute-and-a-half behind Martin.
Valverde, meanwhile, after his fast start, began to fade slightly, losing 28 seconds to Uran come the second time check and eventually finishing 1’01” behind Martin.
With team-mate Quintana continuing to struggle, his leg evidently hurting as the gap continued to grow, Valverde’s time, however, may well be a saving grace for the Spanish team’s GC ambitions.
Meanwhile, Contador continued his fine ride, though he lost time to Uran come the second time check and eventually finished 39 seconds behind Martin.
His ride, though, coupled with Quintana’s injury and Froome’s struggles, puts El Pistolero in a commanding position ahead of the mountainous stage 11.
Quintana, meanwhile, the last man to finish, was more than four minutes down as he crossed the finishing line in visible pain – his GC hopes now seemingly over.
Vuelta a Espana 2014: stage ten (ITT) – result
1) Tony Martin (GER) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep – 47.02hrs
2) Fabian Cancellara (SUI) – Trek Factory Racing +11”
3) Rigoberto Uran (COL) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep +15”
4) Alberto Contador (ESP) – Tinkoff-Saxo +39”
5) Samuel Sanchez (ESP) – BMC Racing +48”
6) Cadel Evans (AUS) – BMC Racing +49”
7) Vasil Kiryienka (BLR) – Team Sky +58”
8) Alejandro Valverde (ESP) – Movistar +1.01
9) Jesse Sergent (NZL) – Trek Factory Racing +1.13
10) Chris Froome (GBR) – Team Sky +1.32
1) Alberto Contador (ESP) – Tinkoff-Saxo – 36.45.49hrs
2) Alejandro Valverde (ESP) – Movistar +27”
3) Rigoberto Uran (COL) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep +59”
4) Winner Anacona (COL) – Lampre-Merida +1.12
5) Chris Froome (GBR) – Team Sky +1.18
6) Joaquim Rodriguez (ESP) – Katusha +1.37
7) Samuel Sanchez (ESP) – BMC Racing +1.41
8) Fabio Aru (ITA) – Astana +2.27
9) Robert Gesink (NED) – Belkin Pro Cycling +2.38
10) Damiano Caruso (ITA) – Cannondale +2.59