Chris Froome (Team Sky) pulled off the performance of a lifetime to take the overall lead in the Vuelta. The Kenyan-born climber finished second behind stage winner Tony Martin (HTC-Highroad) in the 47km time trial around Salamanca to move 12 seconds clear of Jakob Fuglsang (Leopard Trek) in GC.
Froome's teammate Bradley Wiggins set the fastest time at the first check point at 13km but gradually lost time, finishing third on the stage. However, like Froome he moved up the overall classification to third overall as a number of big name climbers suffered on the course.
Overnight race leader Bauke Mollema (Rabobank) had a respectable ride but slipped down the GC and sits 1:07 down on Froome in seventh overall.
"I wasn't really expecting that," Froome said at the finish.
"I was just trying to stay in contention and be there along with Bradley Wiggins, the team leader. I just had a fantastic day and somehow I've ended up in the leader's jersey. It's a dream come true."
The dream became a reality though as he made his way to the podium to pick up the red jersey with the knowledge that he had outclassed the likes of Fabian Cancellara, Taylor Phinney and perhaps most importantly Bradley Wiggins.
In fact Froome's and Wiggins's rides couldn't have been more different. While Wiggins went out like a bullet, setting the fastest time at the first check, Froome set of far steadier. At the second time check at 30km, Wiggins had lost 20 seconds and the stage lead to Martin, with Froome only beginning to show his true strength.
The real indication of Froome's form only came when he reached the 1km to go mark, with commentators realising that he was on course to beat Cancellara's time and challenge Mollema for red. With Wiggins fading further over the final kilometres and losing his rhythm on the final climb to the finish, his 29 second loss to Froome was a major surprise.
Yet Sky will be buoyed by their performance that now leaves them with two men inside the top three on GC and major daylight between themselves and the likes of Michele Scarponi, Carlos Sastre, Joaquim Rodriguez and Igor Anton, who all saw their GC aspirations go up in smoke. Sky's management will nevertheless still be scratching their heads after Froome's ride. With no more time trial kilometres left in the race and they now have two serious GC cards to play for the podium. Deciding who sacrifices his chances for the other could be the defining choice for the team's bid to place a rider on a podium in a Grand Tour for the first time.
The stage threw up more surprises than just Froome's excellence against the clock. Tony Martin who came into the stage as genuine contender, set down a major maker for the Worlds next month, dismantling Fabian Cancellara's dominance against the Spanish heat. That he beat Cancellara was not necessarily the talking point – he put 1:42 into him at the major time trial at the Tour – but with just weeks to go until Copenhagen, Cancellara is running out of time to find the form that has carried him to four rainbow jerseys against the clock.
It was Martin's possible future successor, Taylor Phinney (Team BMC), who shone brightest in the early stages of the day. In his first grand tour, the American is beginning to find his feet at the WorldTour level, and despite Cancellara and the Martin setting faster times in quick succession, Phinney's fifth place deserves praise.
Podium contenders shape up
While the time gaps between Martin and the rest seemed gaping, the results showed a general bunching of true GC contenders. Nibali, who now sits fourth, 31 seconds down, looks to be in pole position considering the mountainous terrain still to come. The fact that the Italian is the only rider within the top 12 to have won a Grand Tour will serve him well.
Jakob Fuglsang, who came to the Vuelta after a disappointing Tour de France, continues to impress here and but for a mechanical in the opening few hundred meters of today's ride he would be even closer to Froome on GC. Kessiakoff, Monfort, Mollema, Cobo Brajkovic and even Jurgen Van den Broeck and Denis Menchov will still claim to have realistic podium ambitions though.
But this Vuelta, which has seen several different race leaders, crashes, excitement and unpredictable racing, is far from over. Rodriguez, despite lying 3:23, could yet be the key. Licking his wounds outside the Katusha team bus after a demoralizing ride, he will be looking for revenge once the race begins to tilt upwards once again. The race win may be behind him but his explosive prowess could be the catalyst to blow this race wide open again.
This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com