Chris Froome put further distance between himself and the favourites on stage six of the 2012 Vuelta, as Team Sky animated the closing three kilometres of the mountain top finish.
The Brit hit out on the steep ramps of the Jaca ascent with only race leader Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) able to fend him off at the finish.
The pair distanced chief rivals Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) in the final metres, the pair finishing third and fourth on the day, 10 and 18 seconds down respectively.
Rodriguez was able to extend his advantage after distancing Froome to the tune of five seconds on the line, but the damage had already been done behind after a searing final ascent.
As the favourites hit the incline it was Team Sky’s Colombian duo Sergio Henao and Rigoberto Urán who immediately came to the fore, tapping out a fierce tempo with Froome sitting in behind, with no rivals able to come around until the final corner.
The result and time bonifications saw a lead of 10 seconds for ‘Purito’ with Froome more than in touch at just 10 seconds back. Contador completes the top three (+35) while Urán, who took sixth at the finish, moved up again to fourth spot (+43).
All eyes were on a pair of climbs at the end of a tough 174.4-km test as the peloton rolled out of Tarazona on Thursday. Despite the Spanish heat it was the Low Countries which dominated the day’s break.
Thomas De Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM), Kristof Van De Walle (Omega Pharma-Quickstep), Pieter Weening (Orica-GreenEDGE), Martijn Maaskant (Garmin-Sharp) and Joost Van Leijen (Lotto-Belisol) made tracks after 10km and combined to pull out an advantage of over five minutes.
With the road rising up gradually inside the final 40km Van Leijen was the first to crack as the escapees were gradually closed in, the peloton turning the screw on the penultimate climb of the Puerto de Oroel.
The pace was extremely high as one by one the GC teams came to the front, each wanting to position their leader on the descent down into Jaca ahead of the final climb.
Juan Antonio Flecha found himself right at the sharp end as he expertly positioned Froome on the run-in, the Brit looking assured while others around him began to feel the pace.
Labelled a third category climb but much tougher in reality, the brief Jaca ascent saw the time gaps open up and - while Rodriguez showed why he is the best in the world on short, sharp finishes - it was Froome who struck another blow to his rivals.
Back at the team hotel we caught up with a very happy Sports Director in Nicolas Portal, the Frenchman full of praise following a superb team performance.
“It was a perfect day for us," he admitted. "The team were fantastic today and everyone played their part. Before the last climb with 25km to go we knew we had to be there at the top. It was a fight to be in a good position before we entered Jaca.
“Then on the climb the Colombians were amazing. Sergio did a really long turn and when he pulled over Rigo took some big pulls. When it was time to go Froomey took over.
“It’s been a tough first week but we are in a really good position and I’m really happy with how the team have performed.”
General Classification standings after Stage 6:
1 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 21:45:06
2 Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:00:10
3 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank - Tinkoff Bank 0:00:35
4 Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Sky Procycling 0:00:43
5 Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:00:53
6 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:00:54
7 Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale 0:01:04
8 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team 0:01:12
9 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Katusha Team 0:01:17
10 Juan Jose Cobo Acebo (Spa) Movistar Team 0:01:34