Chris Froome outsprinted Alberto Contador to seal third place on an enthralling third stage of the Vuelta a Espana.
The duo moved clear with Joaquim Rodriguez and Alejandro Valverde on the tough first-category ascent up to Éibar - and despite numerous attacks from the energetic Contador - Froome , Valverde and Rodriguez were able to respond as they darted toward the finish line.
Valverde and Rodriguez edged ahead in the dying seconds, with Valverde taking the closest of wins, but Froome proved too quick for Contador and snatched four bonus seconds over his rival on the line.
That pulsating performance on the Alto de Arrate saw Valverde take control of the leader’s red jersey and open up an 18-second advantage over his Movistar team-mate Benat Intxausti.
Katusha rider Rodriguez sits one second further back in third, with Froome now fourth overall, four second up on Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff).
The 155.3km trek from Faustino V took place in sweltering conditions, with eight riders moving clear early on as they prepared for a lumpy day in the saddle.
As Philippe Gilbert (BMC) was among their ranks, the break’s lead was never allowed to grow out much over four minutes, and Movistar tapped a steady tempo on the front of the bunch before Team Sky duo Danny Pate and Juan Antonio Flecha helped reel them back as they approached the fourth and final climb of the day.
As the road ramped upwards, Ian Stannard helped set a blistering pace which thinned out the field considerably, and then Sergio Henao came to the fore to guide Froome towards the summit.
When Henao blew, Rigoberto Urán was right there to take over his duties, and only several riders remained when Froome assumed control inside the final four kilometres.
No sooner had that occurred though, than Contador made the first of several stinging attacks, but despite the Spaniard’s best efforts, he couldn’t shake Froome, Valverde or Rodriguez on the tough, winding drag to the summit.
As the quartet entered the last 300m, Valverde and Rodriguez darted ahead to contest the stage victory, while Froome fought off Contador’s late advances to take some valuable time on his rival.
Back on the bus, Sports Director Nicolas Portal was delighted by the team's performance, and felt it had demonstrated a big statement of intent.
He told us: "All the guys did a very good job and it was great to see Froomey consistently coming back when Contador was trying to drop him at the end there.
"He always looked under control and that will stand him in good stead for the next mountains tests.
"Danny, Flecha and Ian did a perfect job of setting things up. Flecha is from this area so he knows the tight, narrow roads really well, and we also knew that last climb because we’d ridden it before at Pais Vasco.
"We knew it would be vital to have bodies on the front heading into it and then Sergio and Rigo both did a fantastic job for Froomey.
"Everyone else is feeling fine and we’ll be looking forward to going again in the morning."
Results of Stage 3:
1 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 3:49:37
2 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team
3 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling
4 Alberto Contador (Esp) Team Saxo Bank - Tinkoff Bank
5 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team 0:00:06
General Classification after Stage 3:
1 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 8:46:56
2 Benat Intxausti Elorriaga (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:18
3 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 0:00:19
4 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:00:20
5 Alberto Contador (Esp) Team Saxo Bank - Tinkoff Bank 0:00:24