A novel attempted coup d'etat from Alberto Contador's Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank to dethrone Joaquim Rodriguez failed to bear fruit on Stage 15 of La Vuelta a España, which saw unheralded Spaniard Antonio Piedra (Caja Rural) take victory from the breakaway.
Piedra's win came after riding with a group of nine riders that was given plenty of leeway by the Katusha-controlled peloton, building an advantage that ballooned out to a maximum of 15 minutes.
The peloton's disinterest in catching the break created a dynamic of two individual races, with the stage, and the GC battles taking place on two different fronts.
The final climb up Lagos de Covadonga, the first hors categorie mountain in this year's race was where the fireworks took place. Piedras went early on the 13.5km climb, taking advantage of break companions Andrey Kascheckin, Pablo Lastras, Ruben Perez and Lloyd Mondory marking each other out of the race.
The presence of team-mate Davide de la Fuente also did Piedra no harm, but the Spaniard still had to climb the best part of 10 kilometres on his own if he was to stay away for the win.
Visibly fatiguing, he looked like he was at times ready to give up, but driven by the rare prize of a Grand Tour stage win, Piedra pushed through the pain, and in fact legged-out on his break rivals to win the day.
"It is incredible. This will be something I will remember for the rest of my life," Piedra said at the end of the race.
But while Piedra was celebrating an important milestone in his career, and a coup of sorts for Caja-Rural, it was the war behind that captivated the Spanish tifosi lining the sides of the road up the climb.
With the stage win not up for grabs the approach to the Lagos de Covadonga had been bordering on lethargic at times, but as the bunch got to with 15 kilometres of the start of the climb, the pace ramped up.
Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank, Katusha, and Movistar amassed at the front in individual lines, the run-in not dissimilar to a sprint finish.
Alberto Contador's men began the climb as a sprint with Daniel Navarro laying down a blistering pace on the early slopes. Things got interesting moments later as the Spaniard detached himself from the peloton.
Jesus Hernandez went moments later, and when also went away it was clear that Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank had a pre-planned move from Contador in the offing.
The team fumbled the strategy however as by the time 'El Pistolero' was readying himself to move, all three riders had been all but absorbed back into the main field.
Contador did try his hand though. Looking stronger than the previous stage, the Spaniard fired a barrage of attacks inside the final five kilometres of the climb to dislodge Rodriguez and gain time.
The red jersey was up to the task. Ever watchful he weathered the Contador storm, while Alejandro Valverde who had also made what was an elite three man move simply looked on.
Contador's salvos were doing nothing to the resolve of Rodriguez, and eventually the Spaniard gave up with one kilometre still to ride, allowing Valverde's team-mate Nairo Quintana to lead him, Rodriguez and Valverde home.
Another tick in the box for Rodriguez who now has only two major days to navigate to be crowned Vuelta a España champion.
"Joaquim is in the strongest shape of his life," said Contador at the end of the race.
"I was not feeling very well today so I preferred to keep my energy for the final mountain stage."
If there was one casualty of the Contador-Rodriguez sparring, it was Briton Chris Froome, who was clearly not on a good day, and conceded more than 40 seconds to the trio. As a result the Tour runner-up falls from his podium position into fourth, but is still well in the hunt.
"All I can do is ride at my limit," said Froome after the stage. "I'll keep trying, and perhaps tomorrow I'll be on a better day and can reclaim a place in the top-three."
Stage 16 of La Vuelta a España will be broadcast on SBSONE and streamed online. Check local guides for details.
Stage 15: 186.5km, La Robla to Lagos de Covadonga
1 Antonio Piedra (ESP) Caja Rural 5hr 01min 23sec
2 Ruben Perez (ESP) Euskaltel-Euskadi 0:02:02
3 Lloyd Mondory (FRA) AG2R La Mondiale
4 David De La Fuente (ESP) Caja Rural
5 Pablo Lastras (ESP) Movistar 0:02:07
6 Simon Geschke (GER) Argos-Shimano 0:02:12
7 Kevin Seeldraeyers (BEL) Astana 0:02:25
8 Andrey Kashechkin (KAZ) Astana 0:03:35
9 Vicente Reynes (ESP) Lotto-Belisol 0:03:49
10 Sergey Lagutin (UZB) Vacansoleil-DCM 0:06:45
1 Joaquim Rodriguez (ESP) Katusha 58hr 17min 21sec
2 Alberto Contador (ESP) Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank 0:00:22
3 Alejandro Valverde (ESP) Movistar 0:01:41
4 Christopher Froome (GBR) Sky 0:02:16
5 Daniel Moreno (ESP) Katusha 0:04:51
6 Robert Gesink (NED) Rabobank 0:05:42
7 Andrew Talansky (USA) Garmin-Sharp 0:06:48
8 Laurens Ten Dam (NED) Rabobank 0:07:17
9 Nicolas Roche (IRL) AG2R La Mondiale 0:07:21
10 Igor Anton (ESP) Euskaltel - Euskadi 0:07:39