Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) closed to within one second of Fabio Aru’s overall lead with victory on stage 15 of the Vuelta a Espana.
Purito attacked his GC rivals on the final climb, hitting the front as the gradient kicked up into the final two kilometres.
In typical fashion, it saw him open up a gap which Nairo Quintana (Movistar) could not respond to, with Fabio Aru (Astana) and Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) the only riders able to chase.
Aru cracked, however, but after being joined by team-mate Mikel Landa managed to protect his overall lead by a solitary second ahead of another day in the mountains on stage 16.
With Movistar buoyed by the success of Nairo Quintana on stage 14 in clawing back some time – however slight – overall, the Spanish team set a fast tempo throughout the day.
It meant the day’s break needed more than 50km to go clear, and even on undulating terrain well-suited to the nine-man move they were never given freedom to establish more than a five-minute lead.
Maarten Tjallingii (LottoNL-Jumbo), Blel Kadri (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Pierre Rolland (Europcar) and Haimar Zubeldia (Trek Factory Racing) were all present in a move which didn’t lack quality.
But Movistar’s relentless pressure behind meant only Zubeldia remained clear when the Spanish team pulled off with ten kilometres of the final climb remaining.
Quintana promptly attacked from behind, but his move was immediately countered by Luis Leon Sanchez as Aru’s team-mates closed the gap straight away.
Movistar responded by planting Giro d’Italia King of the Mountains Giovanni Visconti on the front – a move which put Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) in trouble but Aru again recovered from a slight wobble to stay with the front men.
Rodriguez spotted his opportunity to attack – or rather set the impressive climbing tempo on the steepest sections which he has made a name for himself on – and his rivals began to fall behind.
Quintana was first to lose contact, then Aru as Majka kicked on to take second place.
Rodriguez’s chief lieutenant Daniel Moreno snaffled the final allocation of bonus seconds on the line, but Aru and Quintana crossed together just 15 seconds back – enough for Aru to keep the red jersey by the smallest of margins.
Vuelta a Espana 2015: stage 15 – result
1) Joaquim Rodriguez (ESP) – Katusha – 4.33.31hrs
2) Rafal Majka (POL) – Tinkoff-Saxo +12”
3) Daniel Moreno (ESP) – Katusha +14”
4) Nairo Quintana (COL) – Movistar +15”
5) Fabio Aru (ITA) – Astana – ST
6) Mikel Landa (ESP) – Astana +18”
7) Johan Esteban Chaves (COL) – Orica-GreenEDGE +20”
8) Mikel Nieve (ESP) – Team Sky +24”
9) Alejandro Valverde (ESP) – Movistar +29”
10) Domenico Pozzovivo (ITA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale +41”
1) Fabio Aru (ITA) – Astana – 61.53.36hrs
2) Joaquim Rodriguez (ESP) – Katusha +1”
3) Rafal Majka (POL) – Tinkoff-Saxo +1.24
4) Tom Dumoulin (NED) – Giant-Alpecin +1.25
5) Johan Esteban Chaves (COL) – Orica-GreenEDGE +1.34
6) Daniel Moreno (ESP) – Katusha +2.08
7) Mikel Nieve (ESP) – Team Sky +2.19
8) Alejandro Valverde (ESP) – Movistar +2.25
9) Nairo Quintana (COL) – Movistar +3.00
10) Louis Meintjes (RSA) – MTN-Qhubeka +5.07