Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) stormed back into the Vuelta a Espana red jersey after winning the stage 17 individual time trial in Burgos by more than one minute.
The Dutchman, a time trial bronze medallist behind Sir Bradley Wiggins and Tony Martin at last year’s UCI World Championships, averaged more than 50km/h on the 38.7km to blow his rivals away.
And after doggedly sticking with the GC men in the mountains over the weekend, the 24-year-old’s reward is a return to the top of the general classification and a three-second lead over second-placed Fabio Aru (Astana).
Big splits were always expected on a day in which Dumoulin rolled out among the favourites, but the manner of his victory proved he is a genuine contender for a maiden Grand Tour win.
Early indications were that there could be a big shake-up overall, as the more recognised time triallists within the early starters saw big gaps open up.
Maciej Bodnar (Tinkoff-Saxo) set the benchmark, of 47.05, with Giro d’Italia stage winner Vasil Kiryienka (Team Sky) 27 seconds off that pace.
Kiryienka’s team-mate Geraint Thomas was almost 50 seconds slower than compatriot Steve Cummings (MTN-Qhubeka), meanwhile, the latter’s time proving good enough for a top-ten finish on the day.
The real battle was always going to be between the GC men though, and when the likes of Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) and race leader Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) haemorrhaged time leading to the intermediate checks it looked very good for Dumoulin.
Alejandro Valverde’s blistering pace saw him move provisionally second on the day and reignite his slim chances of a top ten spot overall but Dumoulin was already gaining time by the pedal stroke on all of his rivals having coasted past two-minute man Mikel Nieve.
Fabio Aru (Astana) hung in stubbornly having been second before the stage started, keeping his losses to within two minutes, but Rodriguez, Majka and Nieve could see their red jersey hopes being torn apart.
Dumoulin’s time of 46.01 was a full 64 seconds faster than second-placed Bodnar, as all eyes then turned to the time Aru would set – proving in the end, to be good enough for the top ten but three seconds slower than required for the red jersey.
While the summit finishes are over and done with, there is plenty of climbing to come and more than enough opportunity for Aru to overhaul the slender deficit.
But for now the glory belongs to Dumoulin, who leads a Grand Tour with just four stages remaining in this year’s race.
Vuelta a Espana 2015: stage 17 – result
1) Tom Dumoulin (NED) – Giant-Alpecin – 46.01
2) Maciej Bodnar (POL) – Tinkoff-Saxo +1.04
3) Alejandro Valverde (ESP) – Movistar +1.08
4) Vasil Kiryienka (BLR) – Team Sky +1.31
5) Jerome Coppel (FRA) – IAM Cycling +1.32
6) Nairo Quintana (COL) – Movistar +1.33
7) Romain Sicard (FRA) – Team Europcar +1.36
8) Nelson Oliveira (POR) – Lampre-Merida +1.38
9) Steve Cummings (GBR) – MTN-Qhubeka +1.40
10) Fabio Aru (ITA) – Astana +1.53
1) Tom Dumoulin (NED) – Giant-Alpecin – 68.40.36hrs
2) Fabio Aru (ITA) – Astana +3”
3) Joaquim Rodriguez (ESP) – Katusha +1.15
4) Rafal Majka (POL) – Tinkoff-Saxo +2.22
5) Nairo Quintana (COL) – Movistar +2.53
6) Alejandro Valverde (ESP) – Movistar +3.15
7) Johan Esteban Chaves (COL) – Orica-GreenEDGE +3.30
8) Daniel Moreno (ESP) – Katusha +3.46
9) Mikel Nieve (ESP) – Team Sky +4.10
10) Louis Meintjes (RSA) – MTN-Qhubeka +6.51