Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ.fr) sprinted to Vuelta a Espana stage eight success to earn his fifth Grand Tour stage victory of the season.
Bouhanni launched a long sprint, from some 300 metres out, to foil Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) and hold off former red jersey Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE).
It left the Frenchman, bound for Cofidis in the winter, to celebrate his second victory of this year’s race on a day when crosswinds had come to the fore.
Earlier, a two-man break consisting of Elia Favilli (Lampre-Merida) and Francisco Javier Aramendia (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) had gone clear from the flag.
Their lead stretched to more than seven minutes but, after Cannondale’s Alessandro de Marchi won from the break on stage seven, there was to be no repeat this time out.
In fact, as they were brought back into check by the sprint teams – having at one point led by more than seven minutes – the frantic racing which would play out in the final part of the race appeared very unlikely.
Early drama had instead amounted to a battle for supremacy at the intermediate sprint in the bunch – with a two-man break meaning one second on offer to whoever could take the kick.
At the first checkpoint, it was points leader John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) who led the peloton through as he looks to defend the green jersey.
Second time out, however, with Tinkoff-Saxo and Team Sky having come to the fore, it was Alberto Contador and Chris Froome keen to snatch a second on their rivals overall.
Having marked each other’s moves, however, no bonus second was forthcoming – Contador’s team-mate Sergio Paulinho leading them through instead.
Nevertheless, the action was enough to bring the two red jersey contenders to the fore as the winds began to whip up.
With both teams keen to keep their leaders safe, the pace was ramped up and the two leaders were brought back with more than 40 kilometres still to race.
Any hopes of a counter-attack, however, were extinguished as Trek Factory Racing and Belkin Pro Cycling also came to the fore with their considerable firepower to help ramp the pace right up.
The effect was echelons, with Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) and Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) displaying their mastery of the crosswinds with some big turns on the front.
The GC men, for the most part, stayed safe – though Giant-Shimano’s struggles in the crosswinds continued when Warren Barguil found himself distanced.
Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) and Fabio Aru (Astana) also found themselves in the second group on the road, with a frantic chase ensuing on the front.
Barguil’s predicament saw sprinting team-mate Degenkolb – himself caught out by the split – commit hard to the chase.
To the detriment of his own stage ambitions, it was the German’s efforts which played a large part in restoring the second group to the bunch, with Giant-Shimano immediately hitting the front for the final run-in.
The effort of the chase, however, had clearly taken it out of them as Omega Pharma-Quickstep seized control in the final kilometre and looked well placed to deliver Boonen to victory.
Bouhanni, however, had other ideas as he launched his sprint from well back – catching the Belgian team off guard as he pressed home an advantage despite a headwind.
Michael Matthews chased hard but Bouhanni had just enough reserves left to hold off the Australian by less than a wheel’s length.
Behind them, Peter Sagan (Cannondale) finished third – his best result at the Vuelta so far to suggest he is coming back into form too.
The stage, however, belonged to Bouhanni whose sprinting success at Grand Tours this season continued – the Frenchman clenching both fists in celebration as he saluted his victory.
Despite the crosswinds, there was no change to the top ten overall, meanwhile, meaning Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) will wear the red jersey for the stage nine summit finish in Valdelinares.
Vuelta a Espana 2014: stage eight – result
1) Nacer Bouhanni (FRA) – FDJ.fr – 4.29.00hrs
2) Michael Matthews (AUS) – Orica-GreenEDGE – ST
3) Peter Sagan (SVK) – Cannondale
4) John Degenkolb (GER) – Giant-Shimano
5) Greg Henderson (NZL) – Lotto-Belisol
6) Robert Wagner (GER) – Belkin Pro Cycling
7) Kristian Sbaragli (ITA) – MTN-Qhubeka
8) Roberto Ferrari (ITA) – Lampre-Merida
9) Tom Boonen (BEL) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep
10) Jasper Stuyven (BEL) – Trek Factory Racing
1) Alejandro Valverde (ESP) – Movistar – 31.21.20hrs
2) Nairo Quintana (COL) – Movistar +15”
3) Alberto Contador (ESP) – Tinkoff-Saxo +18”
4) Chris Froome (GBR) – Team Sky +20”
5) Johan Esteban Chaves (COL) – Orica-GreenEDGE +41”
6) Joaquim Rodriguez (ESP) – Katusha +45”
7) Robert Gesink (NED) – Belkin Pro Cycling +55”
8) Fabio Aru (ITA) – Astana +58”
9) Warren Barguil (FRA) – Giant-Shimano +1.02
10) Wilco Kelderman (NED) – Belkin Pro Cycling +1.06