Alex Dowsett and Chris Froome both finished inside the top 10 on the penultimate time trial stage of the Vuelta a Castilla y Leon.
Dowsett had been the first Team Sky rider to roll down the start ramp in Zamora and took over the lead from Luis Mas (Burgos) with his time of 14 minutes and 01 seconds on the technical 11.2km circuit.
His spell at the top didn’t last long though as Richie Porte soon went 18 seconds faster, and that was the way things stayed until Alberto Contador hit the road.
The three-time Tour de France winner was smarting from a disastrous day 24 hours earlier which had seen him lose almost three minutes on his main GC rivals, but made amends by hurtling around the course one second quicker than his Saxo Bank Sungard team-mate Porte to seal the stage victory.
Froome meanwhile, began the day eight places higher than Contador and clocked a hugely-respectable time of 14min 15sec to cross the line in fifth place.
Dowsett and Froome would end the day in fifth and 10th places respectively though after all the riders had taken their turn, and Xavier Tondo (Movistar) moved to the top of the overall standings after finishing third and stopping the clock 12 seconds quicker than overnight leader Bauke Mollema (Rabobank), who ended up fourth.
Dario Cioni dropped two places to seventh in the GC, despite giving it everything he had, and sports director Nicolas Portal was once again pleased with his efforts.
He told us: “Dario looked strong again despite him using up a lot of energy yesterday and after 2km was only two seconds down on Alex’s time. I was pushing him hard from the car and keeping him informed on his splits, and he tried really hard.
“As for Alex, he loves these type of events and will take a lot of confidence from this result, and hopefully Chris will too because he was faster than Alex during the second half of the stage.
“The rest of the guys were not riding at full gas because we wanted to keep them as fresh as possible for tomorrow’s sprint stage. All the team are super motivated for that and hopefully we can go out with a bang.
“I’m really happy with the way this race has gone so far, I was speaking to some people from a French TV channel who are covering the race and they have been impressed by just how prominent we have been every day.”