Russell Downing kicked off the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon with a fifth-placed finish for Team Sky after Francisco Ventoso had sprinted to victory in Palencia.
The Yorkshireman was thrust into contention perfectly by his hard working team-mates but the plucky Ventoso (Movistar) latched onto his wheel on the long closing straight and swung out to his left before pipping Manuel Belletti (Colnago) and Marko Kump (Geox) at the line.
That victory also ensured Ventoso leapt to the top of the standings and he will wear the leader’s grey jersey during the second day of action.
The stage itself had followed the tried and tested formula for a relatively flat day in the saddle with seven riders breaking away after just six kilometres and quickly building up a lead of over 12 minutes.
It was only after 100km or so that Saxo Bank-Sungard, Rabobank and Movistar sent riders up front to monitor the pace of the peloton, but the escapees remained almost nine minutes ahead by the time they hit the first of the day’s three finishing circuits.
With Team Sky also lending a hand that lead did eventually tumble and Raúl Alarcón (Barbot) was the last of those riders to be hauled back on their final ascent of the Alto de Autrilla.
At that point Movistar appeared well-positioned but Team Sky muscled their way to the front inside the final four kilometres and peeled off in turn before Downing was unleashed inside the final 500m.
The 32-year-old led out the sprint but came up just slightly short which allowed Ventoso to capitalise for his third win of the season.
After the stage, Nicolas Portal admitted his debut as first sports director had been an enjoyable one and was happy with the way his team had performed.
He told us: “Russell was really happy with the lead out today. Chris Froome, Alex Dowsett and Peter Kennaugh all worked really hard for him at the end and it was just unfortunate that we didn’t have Ben Swift there to help out too.
“He was suffering from stomach pains during the latter stages of the race and was dropped on that final climb with about 10km to go because Movistar were pushing things on at full gas.
“He was able to finish the stage though so we’ll take a good look at him tonight and hopefully he’ll be all good again tomorrow.
“Before the race had got to that point Serge Pauwels had done some really good work on the front for the last 50-60km to help bring the break back, and Morris Possoni and Dario Cioni also worked hard on the climbs. There’s a great team spirit here and everyone’s contributing, for sure.
“As for me, I’d been nervous in the days leading up to the race but now things have got going I’m feeling great and really enjoying it. Hopefully we can have some better news tomorrow.”