Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins maintained their podium positions at the Vuelta a Espana as a breakaway was allowed to contest stage 18.
The British duo crossed the line at the head of the peloton which came home seven minutes and 42 seconds back as the main favourites were neutralised by the parcours.
Wiggins finished second of the main bunch and 16th on the day in Noja after testing his legs on the uphill run to a finish that saw little opportunity to make gains on the overall classification.
Race leader Juan Jose Cobo (Geox) was in close attendance and the Spaniard still maintains a 13-second lead over Froome as the race prepares for a double-header in the Basque Country.
Out front Francesco Gavazzi (Lampre) sprinted to victory on the coast after biding his time as an 11-rider group rode into the closing kilometres.
The Italian followed in the wheel of Kristof Vandewalle (Quick Step) as the duo broke clear, forcing the Belgian to lead out the sprint before powering past his rival on the drag up to the line.
Alexandre Geniez (Skil-Shimano) came home third on a stage which had always lent itself to a breakaway bid.
It was no surprise to see a 17-man break move clear after 10.6km and go on to build up a healthy advantage in excess of 10 minutes ahead of a day that features five classified climbs.
With no riders in the escape presenting a risk to the overall classification the day was a relatively straightforward one for Geox who set a tempo on the front in aid of Cobo.
As the stage wore on the escape group began to fracture as the riders hit the first category Puerto de Alisas with riders slipping back into the clutches of the peloton.
Nicolas Roche (Ag2r) jumped out of the pack and, followed by Wout Poels (Vacansoleil), attempted to gain time in a move that was quickly snuffed out by Euskaltel-Euskadi.
Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) bounced back from a crash on Tuesday to make the day’s break and scored enough points to move back into the green points jersey he has held for the bulk of the race.
The escapees were forced to chase down a brave late move from Sergio Paulinho after the RadioShack man attacked on the final climb and broke clear, holding an advantage of 43 seconds at the top of the Puerto de Fuente las Varas.
The chase group reeled in the veteran Portuguese rider on the flat run to the line despite almost succumbing to in-fighting.
The bunch rolled in minutes later and despite a late bid for freedom from sixth-placed Maxime Monfort (Leopard Trek) the day saw no movement on the general classification.
After the stage Xabier Zandio revealed that even the more simplistic stages are still hard work as the Vuelta grinds on.
He said: "Although it might have looked it on paper, it was not a straightforward day today at all and there have not been any such days this whole Vuelta.
"Even the pan-flat sprint stage the other day was stressful, and today, even after we’d crested that category-one climb we had to remain alert on the two category three ones that followed. If anyone had wanted to have a go on those, the GC teams would have all had to have reacted so it was stressful and everybody was watching everyone else. Lumpy stages always sap your energy as well.
"That said, we are satisfied with the way the stage panned out. Once the break had gone myself and the other guys spent the day protecting Froomey and Bradley and kept them towards the front of the peloton."
Sports Director Steven de Jongh was also on hand and admitted the day had been undecisive in terms of the overall classification.
He said: "It was an easy day at the office today in terms of the overall race situation, but out there on the road the pace was still high and the parcours was up and down the whole stage.
"After the breakaway went away it was still important that we maintained a good position in the bunch for Froomey and Brad, and that meant we had to stay alert the whole time.
"There was no stress at the end though and the guys were all able to roll in safe and sound. That’s one of the first times that’s happened actually and I think they were happy about that.
"Tomorrow’s stage ends with a lap in Bilbao and there looks to be a pretty tough climb on it so it’s important Froomey and Brad are well protected again and in a good position to maintain their positions on GC."