Dario Cataldo of Omega Pharma-Quick Step wrote his name into Vuelta history this afternoon by becoming the first ever man to win a stage on top of the brutal climb of the Cuitu Negru to win Stage 16 as the race headed into Asturias. Meanwhile, Katusha's Joaquin Rodriguez is looking increasingly like he will secure his maiden Grand Tour win in Madrid on Sunday.
Cataldo attacked fellow breakaway companion Thomas De Gendt on that final ascent and somehow managed to keep the pedals turning on the 25 per cent ramp in the final 100 metres to take the biggest win of his career.
The pair had got away some 50km or so into the 184km stage from Gijon on Spain's northern coast, by which time the day's first climb, the Category 3 Alto de la Cabrunana, had already been negotiated, with earlier attacks checked by the peloton.
The pair quickly pulled out an advantage and had a lead of some 12 minutes as they began to head up the Category 1 Puerto de San Lorenzo, but with no-one else to share the load ad Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank starting to force the pace at the front of the main group, that margin began to fall quickly.
Over the following 10 kilometres, they would lose a third of their advantage but managed to maintain an eight-minute margin as they headed onto the final climb. Heading inside the last couple of kilometres, through massed ranks of fans on a road laid out specially for the Vuelta's visit going beyond the ski station on the mountain, Cataldo managed to drop De Gendt.
The Belgian, who on the penultimate day of the Giro d'Italia in May put in a incredible solo ride on the Passo dello Stelvio to put himself in a position to secure a podium place in Milan the following day, managed to close the gap inside the final few hundred metres, but on the toughest section of the climb, the 27-year-old Cataldo just about managed to keep going to hold on for the win.
Again, Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank's Alberto Contador tried to put his GC rivals under pressure and again, race leader Rodriguez refused to crack - what's more, he managed to nip round his compatriot at the top of the climb to pick up the final four bonus seconds for third place and further stretch his lead.
With Team Sky's Chris Froome dropped once again and losing two and a half minutes to Rodriguez, Alejandro Valverde, who was himself put under pressure by Contador and Rodriguez but finished within 20 seconds of them, is looking secure in third place and it is already looking like an all-Spanish podium.
After tomorrow's rest day, racing resumes on Wednesday with another summit finish in a stage that starts from Santander, although the Category 2 ascent of the Fuente Dé is likely to be a lot less taxing than those seen in recent days.
After that, there is one more big mountain challenge to come and it's in Contador's own back yard on the Bola del Mundo outside Madrid - but increasingly, it's looking like it will be Giro d'Italia runner-up Rodriguez who is heading towards his first Grand Tour win.
Vuelta Stage 16 Result
1 CATALDO, Dario OPQ 5h 18' 28''
2 DE GENDT, Thomas VCD + 7''
3 RODRIGUEZ, Joaquin KAT + 2' 39''
4 CONTADOR, Alberto STB + 2' 41''
5 VALVERDE, Alejandro MOV + 2' 58''
6 QUINTANA, Nairo MOV + 3' 24''
7 ANTON, Igor EUS + 4' 07''
8 TALANSKY, Andrew GRS + 4' 15''
9 TEN DAM, Laurens RAB + 4' 18''
10 GESINK, Robert RAB + 4' 21''
11 INTXAUSTI, Beñat MOV + 4' 39''
12 MORENO, Daniel KAT + 4' 42''
13 DE CLERCQ, Bart LTB + 5' 07''
14 FROOME, Christopher SKY + 5' 11''
15 MONFORT, Maxime RNT + 5' 13''
16 MARCZYNSKI, Tomasz VCD + 6' 07''
17 HERNÁNDEZ, Jesús STB + 6' 07''
18 HENAO, Sergio SKY + 6' 23''
19 ANACONA, Winner LAM + 6' 56''
20 ROCHE, Nicolas ALM + 6' 58''
Last man home on Stage 16
181 DIDIER, Laurent RNT + 37' 43''
General Classification after Stage 13
1 RODRIGUEZ, Joaquin KAT 63h 38' 24''
2 CONTADOR, Alberto STB + 28''
3 VALVERDE, Alejandro MOV + 2' 04''
4 FROOME, Christopher SKY + 4' 52''
5 MORENO, Daniel KAT + 6' 58''
6 GESINK, Robert RAB + 7' 28''
7 TALANSKY, Andrew GRS + 8' 28''
8 TEN DAM, Laurens RAB + 9' 00''
9 ANTON, Igor EUS + 9' 11''
10 ROCHE, Nicolas ALM + 11' 44''
Points Classification after Stage 16
1 RODRIGUEZ, Joaquin KAT 164
2 VALVERDE, Alejandro MOV 139
3 CONTADOR, Alberto STB 123
4 DEGENKOLB, John ARG 112
5 FROOME, Christopher SKY 93
Mountains Classification after Stage 16
1 CLARKE, Simon OGE 38
2 RODRIGUEZ, Joaquin KAT 36
3 DE GENDT, Thomas VCD 33
4 VALVERDE, Alejandro MOV 28
5 CATALDO, Dario OPQ 27
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