Sergio Henao produced a superb display of climbing to take third on stage four at the Vuelta al Pais Vasco.
The Colombian put in a late dig in the closing metres of the wall-like climb up to Bera and, in the face of seasoned opposition, was able to hold on for a fine third, 12 seconds behind the day’s winner Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha).
Seconds later team-mate Lars-Petter Nordhaug arrived to claim fifth on the line as Team Sky launched an impressive assault on one of the toughest summit finishes of the season thus far.
That result was enough to propel the duo up to fifth and ninth on the general classification behind new leader Rodriguez, Henao sitting 24 seconds back with Nordhaug another four adrift with two days to go.
The stage saw Rodriguez make up for his near miss on Wednesday with victory on the day, holding off overnight race-leader Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) to win by a margin of nine seconds and claim yellow by the same buffer.
Michael Rogers was the next Team Sky jersey across the line in 21st, 27 seconds back on a day which saw inevitable splits amongst the GC contenders.
As the WorldTour race entered its second half, five escapees failed to gain much more than two minutes in miserable conditions as stage four kicked off.
After a fast start and with Sanchez’s Basque squad controlling the pace the action always looked likely to culminate in a showdown in Ibardin.
With a categorised distance of 430 metres the final climb was short yet maxed out at an eye-watering 18.33% gradient.
Over the Alto de Agina the lead group saw some changes as GreenEDGE team-mates Bernhard Sulzberger and Christian Meier bridged across. With a relatively small gap a few other riders took the opportunity to bridge across to the front ahead of the finale.
Yet sure enough the final escapee was hauled back inside 3km after a fast run-up to the final ascent.
Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) was the first man onto the decisive ramp but attacks were quick to unfurl with Wout Poels (Vacansoleil-DCM) first to dig in, followed by Henao before Rodriguez ultimately took the spoils.
After the stage Sports Director Marcus Ljungqvist was thrilled to see two of the team’s young guns up there fighting with the best in the world.
The Swede said: “The final climb was a wall. The last kilometre was really steep but it was a really nice ride from Sergio and Lars-Petter. What they did there was world class. It was good to see Mick back as well to show he is up there after yesterday.
“The guys they were up there with are big names but they are in really good shape. It is a big race for them and they are really up there with the best.”
On the tough day for the riders, Ljungqvist admitted the conditions “weren’t too bad in the car”.
“It started to rain hard early on. It was under 10 degrees and it didn’t look good but it finally cleared up and stopped raining.
“Tomorrow the profile looks a bit easier on paper. If a group goes it could stay away but I think there are teams interested in bringing it back. It depends how hard it is raced but if we can get Appollonio over the last climb there could be chances. We will see as the second category climb with 25km to go could be hard enough to split things if they go hard.”