Ruben Plaza (Lampre-Merida) won stage 20 of the Vuelta a Espana on Saturday thanks to a strong solo effrort, but the day belonged to Fabio Aru (Astana).
Aru, who started the day six seconds behind overall leader Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin), produced a decisive attack on the day’s penultimate category 1 climb.
Dumoulin could not follow the attack, and would eventually tumble down to sixth place overall.
Aru finished the day 1:17 clear of Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) in second overall, with Rafal Majka (TInkoff Saxo) following a further second back.
The Italian broke down in tears after the race, realising that he had in all likelihood secured his first Grand Tour victory – barring disaster on Sunday's final stage.
“I really cannot believe what we achieved today,” Aru said.
“My teammates were exceptional today. Some got into the break, others worked to raise the tempo, Mikel Landa did an amazing job. This victory is thanks to my teammates, not me. It was very stressful, but I am so happy to have this leader’s jersey. We knew the penultimate climb was very difficult.
"This is the most beautiful win of my career, and Dumoulin has demonstrated that he is a rider for grand tours in the future.”
A disappointed Dumoulin admitted he just did not have the legs to chase Aru, who timed his attack to perfection and received plenty of support from his team-mates prior to making his move.
“I was just empty, I had no legs. I had an idea that was the case but I just fought for what I was worth and in the end you just got to deal with it,” Dumoulin said. “Tomorrow I will feel proud but today it’s just disappointment.”
Plaza won the day's stage after staging a long-range solo attack, riding all of 112km on his own to the finish line, finishing ahead of Jose Goncalves (Caja Rural-Seguros) and Alessandro De Marchi (BMC).
Stage 20 results
1 Ruben Plaza Molina (Spa) Lampre-Merida 4:37:05
2 Jose Goncalves (Por) Caja Rural-Seguros RGA 0:01:07
3 Alessandro De Marchi (Ita) BMC Racing Team 0:01:08
4 Romain Sicard (Fra) Team Europcar 0:01:29
5 Amaël Moinard (Fra) BMC Racing Team 0:01:30
6 Carlos Verona Quintanilla (Spa) Etixx – Quick-Step
7 Sergio Luis Henao Montoya (Col) Team Sky
8 Kenny Elissonde (Fra) FDJ.fr 0:01:35
9 Matteo Montaguti (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale 0:01:43
10 Moreno Moser (Ita) Cannondale-Garmin Pro Cycling Team 0:02:40
General Classification after Stage 20
1 Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana Pro Team 83:01:40
2 Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Team Katusha 0:01:17
3 Rafal Majka (Pol) Tinkoff-Saxo 0:01:18
4 Nairo Alexander Quintana Rojas (Col) Movistar Team 0:01:19
5 Jhoan Esteban Chaves Rubio (Col) Orica GreenEdge 0:01:20
6 Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Giant-Alpecin 0:01:21
7 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:01:22
8 Mikel Nieve Ituralde (Spa) Team Sky 0:01:23
9 Daniel Moreno Fernandez (Spa) Team Katusha 0:01:24
10 Louis Meintjes (RSA) MTN – Qhubeka 0:10:46