On a climb that could've been mistaken for the famous Muur de Huy, only longer, and harder, Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) took his second stage win and extended his overall lead in what's been a brilliant few days for the Spaniard.
I’m very happy to be still in red jersey and to improve the gap, but nothing is still decided: the competition is still long, with very hard stages, and everybody can have a bad day and drop, coming out of the fight for general classification.
Having navigated yesterday's 39.4km time trial with aplomb, Rodriguez arrived at the start of Stage 12 of La Vuelta a España in Vilagarcía de Arousa with the knowledge that the finishing "wall" on the Mirador de Ezaro would be to his liking.
The Spaniard made no mistake in converting the offering, withstanding an early attack from Euskaltel-Euskadi's Igor Anton, allowed team-mate Daniel Moreno to expend himself before launching himself inside the final 1.5km of the climb, and the stage.
The sticky gradients of the Mirador, which max out at close to 30 per cent played to Rodriguez's punchier style, and while Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank) looked comfortable enough, the Katusha rider looked more menacing.
With his powerful finish was the final ace in his hand, and Rodriguez needed only be patient as Contador dug deep to burn the Vuelta leader off his wheel. But showing he's in the form of his life, Contador's best was simply not enough and Rodriguez powered away in the last 100 metres of the climb to take the win.
Such was the severity of the finale, that despite Rodriguez leaving his as late as he did, he still put eight seconds into Contador.
“I’m very happy with this win," said Rodriguez. "It was really a hard stage, where the team worked great keeping under control the breakaway and taking me to the final rush in the best position: Moreno, especially, was incredible and brought me until the last kilometre.
"I’m very happy to be still in the red jersey and to improve the gap, but nothing is still decided: the competition is still long, with very hard stages, and everybody can have a bad day and drop, coming out of the fight for general classification.
"My shape is great, people supports me a lot: I will try for sure to keep the jersey until Madrid, even if it will be difficult."
The rest of the main contenders trailed in shortly after albeit in ones and twos. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) battled to finish third, while Robert Gesink (Rabobank) showed he's improving by hanging on for fourth.
Sky's leader Chris Froome, who was ill-suited to the finale lost 23 seconds in nominal time, but with time bonuses also a factor, he conceded nearly as much as he'd gained on Rodriguez in yesterday's time trial.
Earlier in the day a break of four riders formed the action: Amael Moinard (BMC), Cameron Meyer (Orica-GreenEDGE), Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Kevin de Weert (Omega Pharma-QuickStep).
Heading into the final 30km they still held a more than four-minute advantage, and actually hit the final climb, the Mirador, in the lead.
Meyer and Astarloza did their best to stay away, but the speed of the chase, and the quality of Rodriguez was too much.
Stage 12: 190.5km, Vilagarcía de Arousa-Mirador de Ézaro
1 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (ESP) Katusha 4hr 24min 32sec
2 Alberto Contador Velasco (ESP) Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank 0:00:08
3 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (ESP) Movistar Team 0:00:13
4 Robert Gesink (NED) Rabobank 0:00:20
5 Christopher Froome (GBR) Sky 0:00:23
6 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (ESP) Katusha
7 Igor Anton Hernandez (ESP) Euskaltel-Euskadi 0:00:27
8 Nicolas Roche (IRL) AG2R-La Mondiale 0:00:31
9 Przemyslaw Niemiec (POL) Lampre-ISD 0:00:33
10 Gorka Verdugo Marcotegui (ESP) Euskaltel-Euskadi 0:00:36
1 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (ESP) Katusha 44hr 50min 35sec
2 Alberto Contador Velasco (ESP) Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank 0:00:13
3 Christopher Froome (GBR) Sky 0:00:51
4 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (ESP) Movistar 0:01:20
5 Robert Gesink (NED) Rabobank 0:02:59
6 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (ESP) Katusha 0:03:29
7 Nicolas Roche (IRL) AG2R-La Mondiale 0:04:22
8 Andrew Talansky (USA) Garmin-Sharp 0:05:17
9 Laurens Ten Dam (NED) Rabobank 0:05:18
10 Bauke Mollema (NED) Rabobank 0:06:01