Overnight race leader Igor Anton sensationally crashed out of the Tour of Spain after suffering injuries in a crash inside the last 10km of the race's 14th stage on Saturday.
Joaquin Rodriguez, a stage winner at the Tour de France in July, took the stage honours after counter-attacking Italian Vicenzo Nibali on the final ramps of the Pena Cabarga climb after 178km of racing from Burgos.
As a result Liquigas rider Nibali took over the race lead and now holds a four-second advantage on Rodriguez, although the Sicilian admitted he would have preferred to do so under different circumstances.
"I'm disappointed for Anton. I only heard when I was stood on the podium," said Nibali.
"I'm happy with my performance, but I'd have preferred to take the race lead in a different manner."
Euskaltel rider Anton was one of several riders to hit the asphalt on a slight downhill section of road with around 9km to race as the peloton continued their hot pursuit of stage leaders David Millar and Niki Terpstra.
Anton was left with scrapes all over his body and spent several minutes appraising his injuries and discussing whether to continue or not with team officials before finally pulling out.
He was later diagnosed with a fractured elbow, according to team manager Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano, but Anton was later trying to keep his spirits up.
"I'm trying to remember how happy I've been during these past two weeks. I've been living a dream," said Anton, who boosted his profile by wearing the red jersey for five days and winning two stages.
"I've won two stages and I've shown my ability to be a challenger for overall victory on a Grand Tour. I'll be back stronger in 2011."
The peloton's efforts meanwhile reduced the gap to a minute and a half by the time the front duo hit the steep climb, packed with thousands of spectators, leading to the summit finish line in the Cantabrian mountains.
The climb, whose average gradient was a whopping nine percent, soon took its toll on both front men, however, although despite appearing to struggle Terpstra made one final and valiant attempt to hold off the chase.
As the climbing specialists turned on the gas in his wake, he was reeled in a few kilometres from the finish line and from there the race's main protagonists took over.
The final two kilometres saw Nibali and Rodriguez go off on their own, however the Italian appeared to dig too deep too soon and when the climb got steeper at the end Rodriguez pounced to pedal smoothly away from the Italian.
"It's a huge win for our team, who all worked hard for it," said Rodriguez.
"I heard that Igor Anton crashed, it's a real shame he had to pull out. I didn't know that. Unless I'm mistaken, he was the strongest."
Nibali admitted he could do little to counter Rodriguez.
"My team manager told me the hardest point of the stage was with 1.5km to go. I saw Rodriguez attacking but all I could do was finish at my own rhythm."
© AFP 2010
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