After almost 180 kilometres out the front, Robert Gesink (LottoNL-Jumbo) just had the legs to out sprint fellow escapees Kenny Elissonde (FDJ) and Egor Silin (Katusha) over the line.
Sixth overall at the 2015 Tour de France, the Dutchman was forced to miss this year's edition following a horror recovery from injuries sustained in a 2016 Tour de Suisse crash.
— LottoNLJumbo Cycling (@LottoJumbo_road) September 3, 2016
Gesink's first Vuelta win was therefore all the more sweet.
"I was so close on Covadonga (stage 10) and just Quintana passed. I thought I would take another chance and today worked out," Gesink said.
"We went with a large group of strong riders. I was not sure I could beat all these riders."
The final climb decimated the large lead group group but Gesink had team mate George Bennett riding out front. This freed Gesink to fight for the win.
"I kept fighting and I gave everything. My legs were so cramped I could not sit anymore, but I had enough. I'm happy,” Gesink said.
“This is my first stage win in a grand tour after years of racing. It’s perfect timing too because I wasn’t really having a good season. Now I feel that I'm truly recovered from my crash in Switzerland."
Gotta love it when a plan comes together
Victor Campanaerts gave it all for Gesink, Bennett and LottoNL-Jumbo's team tactics by fetching bottles, food and driving the lead group until bowing out in the last 50 kilometres.
Meanwhile back in the bunch, OBE had their own plan of attack.
“We had a plan at the start and we executed it to perfection,” said Yates. “The whole team performed really well and it's good to see it pay off today.”
"There were a lot of guys still up the road who had been in the breakaway and everyone’s tired at this point, but I'd been in the bunch so I was that bit fresher on the Aubsique.”
Yates' thoughts were echoed by OBE director Neil Stephens.
“We got the first part of the job done by getting three guys (including Gerrans) in the break, which was great. Next was putting Jack (Haig) out the front of the peloton who was followed by Simon (Yates).
“This caused some confusion and the other teams had to look at each other for a reaction, by the time they did Simon was in the valley with his other three teammates. These guys went on to hold off the chasers brilliantly, which allowed Simon to go again which really split the favourites group.
“When Esteban attacked it was just the leaders, no workers and it was down to the other favourites to respond and in that moment no one wanted to commit and that made the difference.
"I was hopeful we could move up the classification today and that’s what we did. Third and fourth place means we can be self assured about our position with lots of racing to come.”
Yates finished fifth on the stage to move to fourth on GC. Chaves dropped Froome and Quintana finishing 30 seconds ahead ahead in ninth place and moving up to third overall.
Quintana attacks but Froome hangs on
In the closing kilometres on the Col d'Aubisque, Quintana launched an attack. Froome was nursed desperately back to the Colombian by David Lopez with five kilometres to the summit. Quintana then punched again and again and again, but the Brit was able to just hang on, while Contador found the pace too much and fell back.
“We tried everything to drop Froome back, but in all of my final accelerations, he sooner or later bridged back to my back wheel - it just wasn’t possible this time," Quintana said.
As it happened
After around 15kms raced, 41 riders pulled clear from the bunch, ready to take on the intense French Pyrenees stage.
The large group included Gerrans, Cort and Keukeliere (OBE), Gesink, Bennett, Elissonde, and Silin. But with Movistar's Ruben Fernandez, Dani Moreno, and Jose Rojas along for the ride, Sky paced the peloton to contain the damage, the break's lead only reaching six minutes on the descent of the second last Col de Marie-Blanque climb.
Here, Haig attacked from the bunch pulling Yates, to quickly build a 30 second advantage. Over the top of the Yates hooked up with Gerrans and Cort at four minutes behind what was left of the leaders. The four progressed along the road while the six leaders began the Aubisque 40 seconds ahead of the rest.