Alessandro de Marchi (Cannondale) took victory on stage seven of the Vuelta a Espana, riding away from a four-man break and soloing to the win.
The Italian was part of a strong four-man move which belatedly went clear on an incident-packed stage, which saw Chris Froome (Team Sky) – in the white jersey – among the riders to take a tumble before he recovered to gain seconds on his rivals in the final sprint.
And De Marchi, who has been no stranger to the breakaway throughout the last two years, proved his strength by accelerating with 20 kilometres and – aided by a crash for fellow breakaway rider Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) – ploughed on alone to take the biggest win of his career.
If anybody had expected the stage to be a case of ‘after the Lord Mayor’s Show’, they were proved very wrong.
An incident-packed day ensued, with several crashes and plenty of riders fighting to get in the break on a stage well-suited to a strong escape attempt.
Of most concern amidst the early drama was an early crash which saw Chris Froome hit the deck – the Team Sky man finding himself off the back as Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) looked to power a break up the road.
With a fast pace being set at the front, Froome – who was clearly in discomfort from his tumble – found himself in trouble, losing contact as Movistar and Tinkoff-Saxo looked to take advantage.
After the troubles caused by crashes at the Criterium du Dauphine and Tour de France, however, it remains to be seen how the Kenyan-born Brit fares in the coming stages.
For the time being, however, his Team Sky team-mates worked hard to relay their leader back to the peloton – prompting the pace to come back down.
Bryan Nauleau (Team Europcar), Aleksejs Saramotins (IAM Cycling) and Ivan Santaromita (Orica-GreenEDGE) were not as fortunate, however, all clambering into their team cars during the stage – the first three riders to abandon this year’s race.
Back up the road, the slowing in pace was to the benefit of Hesjedal, who had finally got a move to pull away.
Several previous attempts had been brought back by teams who had missed the move, with everybody keen to get men up the road – David Millar (Garmin-Sharp) among the riders to have earlier been brought back.
Hesjedal was joined up the road by Johann Tschopp (IAM Cycling), before Tour de France combativity award winner Alessandro de Marchi (Cannondale) and Hubert Dupont (Ag2r-La Mondiale) bridged the gap.
Steve Morabito (BMC Racing) was another to attempt to jump across, but the four-man move eventually stayed clear, building their advantage up to more than seven minutes.
Froome took advantage of the relenting of pace to visit the medical car, rejoining the bunch without any drama this time out – moving forward with his team as Trek Factory Racing increased the pace at the front.
Having missed the break, the American team were happy to do the chasing, Fabian Cancellara and Kristof Vandewalle setting a pace which was too hot for several riders at the back.
Current green jersey holder and winner of two stages so far this year, John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano)- who had reportedly also suffered an earlier crash, was among the riders dropped as was Nathan Haas (Garmin-Sharp).
Cancellara continued to put the hurt on at the front, doing so until he suffered a puncture as the gap to the leaders was brought down.
Still the four-man group remained more than five minutes in front, however, as Cancellara joined one of several small groups trailing the bunch after his puncture.
Mikel Nieve (Team Sky) encountered similar difficulties, despite climbing well, while Lampre-Merida joined Trek on the front for the descent – Damiano Cunego leading the way.
A small ascent a La Casillas caused further splits in the bunch, with Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) among those struggling, while Cancellara – who had only just chased back on – and Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ.fr) were dropped.
Both Trek and Lampre-Merida continued to ride hard on the front, Bob Jungels putting in the work as Jasper Stuyven stayed safe behind the leaders.
As the gap finally began to come down, the breakaway started to attack each other – De Marchi going first and dropping Dupont with his acceleration.
Hesjedal was next to have a go, but the three remaining leaders stayed together with a healthy advantage until the Canadian, too, suffered a crash – a motorbike running over his bike as it spun on the tarmac to ruin his hopes of a stage win.
The effect of the crash was De Marchi going solo off the front and, with his lead still well in excess with ten kilometres remaining, Trek relented in their chase further back.
With the Italian looking good for the stage win, the GC men brought their riders forward – Sky leading Froome to the front with their team leader seemingly recovered from his tumble.
In between, Hesjedal and Dupont rejoined Tschopp, but they also had too big a gap to make up as De Marchi continued to ride hard on the uncategorised uphill drag to the finish.
And De Marchi – who will ride for BMC Racing next season – judged his effort to perfection as he held on to take a comfortable victory.
Hesjedal won the sprint for second but was left to rue what might have been after his crash, while the action continued apace behind – team-mate Dan Martin launching a long sprint in a bid to claw back a few seconds and also boost his green jersey hopes.
Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) set off in pursuit, with Froome following – a wise move as it happened as Warren Barguil (Giant-Shimano) crashed in the final run-in.
Gilbert pipped Martin to fifth place however, while Froome settled for seventh – a great turnaround after his earlier crash, with the added bonus of a three-second time gap to his rivals.
The rest of the GC men reaped the rewards of their team’s efforts to bring them forward, meanwhile, staying safe to leave just 19 seconds between Valverde and fourth-placed Froome overall.
Vuelta a Espana 2014: stage seven – result
1) Alessandro de Marchi (ITA) – Cannondale – 4.01.52hrs
2) Ryder Hesjedal (CAN) – Garmin-Sharp +1.35
3) Hubert Dupont (FRA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale – ST
4) Johann Tschopp (SUI) – IAM Cycling
5) Philippe Gilbert (BEL) – BMC Racing +2.17
6) Dan Martin (IRL) – Garmin-Sharp – ST
7) Chris Froome (GBR) – Team Sky
8) Gianluca Brambilla (ITA) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep +2.20
9) Alejandro Valverde (ESP) – ST
10) Alberto Contador (ESP)
1) Alejandro Valverde (ESP) – Movistar – 26.52.20hrs
2) Nairo Quintana (COL) – Movistar +15”
3) Alberto Contador (ESP) – Tinkoff-Saxo +18”
4) Chris Froome (GBR) – Team Sky +19”
5) Johan Esteban Chaves (COL) – Orica-GreenEDGE +44”
6) Joaquim Rodriguez (ESP) – Katusha +45”
7) Robert Gesink (NED) – Belkin Pro Cycling +55”
8) Fabio Aru (ITA) – Astana +58”
9) Wilco Kelderman (NED) – Belkin Pro Cycling +1.09
10) Damiano Caruso (ITA) – Cannondale +1.12