Spain’s Joaquim Rodriguez claimed victory on the third stage of the Tour of the Basque Country as Colombian Sergio Henao moved into the overall lead.
Rodriguez outsprinted Henao and race favourite Nairo Quintana on the final stretch of a mountainous 170.7km ride from Vitoria to Zumarraga in a time of 4hr 39min 02sec.
“I had been on a bad run with a lot of incidents and a long time without winning,” said Rodriguez, whose Katusha team enjoyed a double success as Alexander Kristoff won the Scheldeprijs semi-classic in Belgium.
“I hope this can be the start of what I would call a normal run rather than a good one.”
Henao leads from Rodriguez and Giro d’Italia champion Quintana thanks to stage placings, with all three men tied on the same time in the overall standings and Polish world champion Michal Kwiatowski seven seconds back.
However, the French challenge of Thibaut Pinot and Jean-Christophe Peraud faltered as they finished 18 and 58 seconds back respectively.
On another undulating stage that contained eight categorised climbs in all, it was two climbs up the Alto de la Antigua in the final 40km that proved decisive.
On the first time round, a number of riders had to dismount and push their bikes to the top of the hill having lost momentum due to the huge crowds on the side of the road.
That allowed a leading group including the race favourites to form a gap over the rest of the peloton and it was Rodriguez, Quintana and Henao who emerged strongest on the second climb with just three kilometres to the finish.
Tactics then kicked in as Rodriguez held back to ensure he had a target to aim at in the two Colombians and produced an impressive final kick to take the stage win on the line.
“It was a difficult stage with the wind all day, a lot of short climbs and in the end an explosive finish,” said Quintana.
“In the end I just wanted to save the most important thing (the general classification). The others were stronger and they won.”
Thursday’s 162.2km fourth stage from Zumarraga to Arrate is another mountainous challenge for the riders with a category one climb up the Alto de Uzarta just before the finish line.
Results from the 170.7km third stage of the Tour of the Basque Country from Vitoria to Zumarraga on Wednesday:
1. Joaquim Rodriguez (ESP/KAT) 4hr 39min 02sec, 2. Sergio Henao (COL/SKY) at same time, 3. Nairo Quintana (COL/MOV) s.t, 4. Michal Kwiatkowski (POL/EQS) 0:07, 5. Rafal Majka (POL/TCS) s.t., 6. Michele Scarponi (ITA/AST) s.t., 7. Samuel Sanchez (ESP/BMC) s.t., 8. Simon Yates (GBR/OGE) 0:10, 9. Simon Spilak (SLV/KAT) s.t., 10. Tejay Van Garderen (USA/BMC) s.t.
20. Thibaut Pinot (FRA/FDJ) 0:18, 31. Jean-Christophe Peraud (FRA/ALM) 0:58
1. Sergio Henao (COL/SKY) 13hr 08min 41sec, 2. Joaquim Rodriguez (ESP/KAT) at same time, 3. Nairo Quintana (COL/MOV) s.t, 4. Michal Kwiatkowski (POL/EQS) 0:07, 5. Samuel Sanchez (ESP/BMC) s.t., 6. Rafal Majka (POL/TCS) s.t., 7. Michele Scarponi (ITA/AST) s.t., 7. 8. Daniel Moreno (ESP/Katusha) 0:10, 9. Alexis Vuillermoz (FRA/ALM) s.t., 10. Tejay Van Garderen (USA/BMC) s.t.
20. Thibaut Pinot (FRA/FDJ) 0:18, 29. Jean-Christophe Peraud (FRA/ALM) 0:58
– Agence France-Presse