Spaniard Joaquim Rodriguez claimed victory as the race favorites made their move on day three of the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya.
The Katusha rider led home compatriot Alberto Contador of Tinkoff-Saxo and Colombian Nairo Quintana of Movistar on the 162.9km ride from Banyoles to La Molina, Spain, in a time of 4 hours, 50 minutes, 54 seconds.
Victory also takes Rodriguez into the overall lead of the race ahead of Contador and Quintana, who are five and nine seconds behind respectively.
Tour de France winner Chris Froome was fifth on the day for Sky Pro Cycling, which also moved him into fifth overall behind American Tejay van Garderen, 13 seconds off the time set by Rodriguez.
However, Froome was happy with how the day had gone, having just returned from a back injury.
“I’ve come back after a long period of racing and I was really happy with today. Okay I didn’t win the stage and I lost a bit of time in the final, but all things considered I’m really happy with my condition,” he told Sky’s Web site.
“Especially after taking a little bit of a break with my back problem, it’s a really positive sign for me to be at the front of the race again,” he said.
“We came into the last 500m and it had been quite fast until then. It wasn’t a very steep finish, but it was more explosive. I thought: ‘If I’m going to try anything, it might as well be here.’ I gave it a little push, but the main contenders — Rodriguez, Contador, Quintana and Tejay — all followed my wheel and accelerated past me,” he said.
After Slovenian Luka Mezgec had taken victory on the opening two stages that favored the sprinters, the race entered the mountains with a steep finish up to La Molina near the French border.
A group of six riders led for the majority of the stage, but were eventually swallowed up by the peloton with 4km left.
Froome was the first of the leaders to accelerate towards the finish, but he did not have the legs to reach the line as Rodriguez timed his run perfectly to open up a slight advantage on his rivals in the general classification.
The riders also face a mountain finish in stage four on the 166.4km route from Alp to Vallter 2000-Setcases, and Contador was expecting an even stiffer test yesterday.
“The most important thing now is to recover well for tomorrow, which will be even more difficult,” he said. “Today it was a question of waiting on the attacks and the truth is Joaquin had an incredible burst that I couldn’t live with in the final sprint.”