Frank Schleck (Trek Factory Racing) wound the clock back to solo to stage 16 victory at the Vuelta a Espana, his first Grand Tour stage win for six years.
The Luxembourgish rider, whose only other victory since returning from his 2012/13 doping ban was his national title in 2014, was in the day’s break almost from the flag and set a pace on the climbs which earned him a solo lead.
And while the race lead was changing further down the road, Schleck was digging deep to claim victory on the Ermita de Alba – his team’s third win of this year’s race.
The red jersey group, meanwhile, was thinned significantly on the final climb, and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) attacked late to overturn his one-second deficit to Fabio Aru (Astana) and claim the red jersey by the same margin.
King of the Mountains leader Omar Fraile (Caja Rural-Seguros) was one of five riders to go clear almost from the flag, with Schleck and Pierre Rolland (Team Europcar) also present.
Carlos Verona (Etixx-QuickStep) and Rodolfo Torres (Colombia) also joined them, and on the early Alto de Aristebano ascent they were joined by Moreno Moser (Cannondale-Garmin), Cyril Lemoine (Cofidis), Larry Warbasse (BMC Racing) and George Bennett (Team LottoNL-Jumbo).
When Tsgabu Grmay (Lampre-Merida- successfully bridged the gap – one which already stood at more than seven minutes – the ten then pressed on to take their advantage into double figures and beyond.
It peaked at more than 20 minutes before Katusha finally started to bring them back, while Rafal Majka also called for Tinkoff-Saxo to ride hard as he bid to improve his own GC standing.
Astana also set a fast pace on the vastly-reduced peloton, while up front Schleck drove the tempo with only Torres, Verona and Bennett sticking with the Luxembourg rider.
Soon that was down to two, too, as he and Torres exchanged words and shared turns on the run-in to the final ascent, the Ermita de Alba.
Back in the bunch, Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) hung in comfortably in front of Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), while Fabio Aru’s Astana led the way and Mikel Nieve (Team Sky) tested his legs at the front too.
Schleck pushed on solo inside the final three kilometres and the action down the road was heating up again too as Majka called for pace again and Aru slipped a few places down the group.
Schleck’s charge for victory, after nearly six hours in the saddle, could not be slowed and he soaked in the cheers of the crowd on the winding finale.
With the stage wrapped up, attention then turn to the red jersey group, from which Alejandro Valverde went backwards as Mikel Landa (Astana) set the pace.
Aru looked to be in trouble at times at the back, but Landa continued to set the pace as more riders were spat out of the back – Dumoulin starting to cling to the coat tails of the group.
Rodriguez, in the green jersey, attacked with 700m to go as Dumoulin was finally dropped from the group and with Aru unable to respond the red jersey was within the Spaniard’s grip.
Aru’s response did come with 300m to ride as Rodriguez continued to press on alone but the Spaniard held a two-second advantage at the finale to move into the race lead.
Dumoulin, meanwhile, did lose time but stormed into the final 50m or so to ensure he remains well-placed ahead of the rest day and, most importantly, the long stage 17 time trial.
Vuelta a Espana 2015: stage 17 – result
1) Frank Schleck (LUX) – Trek Factory Racing – 5.49.56hrs
2) Rodolfo Torres (COL) – Colombia +1.10
3) Moreno Moser (ITA) – Cannondale-Garmin +1.48
4) George Bennett (NZL) – LottoNL-Jumbo +2.42
5) Pierre Rolland (FRA) – Team Europcar +2.49
6) Omar Fraile (ESP) – Caja Rural-Seguros +3.05
7) Carlos Verona (ESP) – Etiix-QuickStep +4.26
8) Larry Warbasse (USA) – IAM Cycling +6.02
9) Joaquim Rodriguez (ESP) – Katusha +8.51
10) Fabio Aru (ITA) – Astana +8.53
1) Joaquim Rodriguez (ESP) – Katusha – 67.52.44hrs
2) Fabio Aru (ITA) – Astana +1”
3) Rafal Majka (POL) – Tinkoff-Saxo +1.35
4) Tom Dumoulin (NED) – Giant-Alpecin +1.51
5) Mikel Nieve (ESP) – Team Sky +2.32
6) Johan Esteban Chaves (COL) – Orica-GreenEDGE +2.38
7) Daniel Moreno (ESP) – Katusha +2.49
8) Nairo Quintana (COL) – Movistar +3.11
9) Alejandro Valverde (ESP) – Movistar +3.58
10) Louis Meintjes (RSA) – MTN-Qhubeka