He may be two days shy of completing his tenth consecutive Grand Tour, but Adam Hansen (Lotto-Belisol) still had the freshness of mind to seize an opportunity on stage 19 of the Vuelta a Espantilde;a in Galicia.
When fast men such as John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) and Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) came over the Alto Monte Faro in the front group, a final dust-up between the Vueltas surviving sprinters seemed inevitable.
On the final, uncategorised climb on the run-in to Cangas do Morrazo, however, Hansen opted to try his luck, responding to an acceleration from Philippe Gilbert (BMC) with four kilometres remaining and then continuing alone with his effort.
Hansens small lead at the top of the climb did not initially seem likely to upset the expected running order for the stage, but it soon became apparent that there was disagreement over the chase behind. Degenkolbs teammate Warren Barguil had already contributed to much of the pace-setting in the finale and nobody, it seemed, wished to give the in-form German an armchair ride to the line.
With three kilometres remaining, Hansen had seven seconds in hand and he doubled that advantage soon afterwards as the impasse continued behind. It would be unfair, however, to suggest that Hansens victory owed solely to his cunning even when the chase picked up in the final 1500 metres he conceded precious little of his advantage and he freewheeled across the line five seconds clear of the peloton, which was naturally led home by Degenkolb.
I would have been very high odds to win this stage, thats for sure, Hansen smiled after first feigning offence when a television reporter asked if his victory had been something of a surprise.
I wanted to do something today and the steep climb beforehand probably took something out of the sprinters. The attacking in the finale started earlier than I wanted but I went with it and then I went out alone.
Indeed, the Alto Monte Faro had reduced the peloton to just 55 riders and crucially left Degenkolb with only Barguil for company. Matthews, too, was without an Orica-GreenEdge teammate to help him, and the two sprinters lack of support in the finale tilted the balance in favour of attackers.
Degenkolb did have the consolation of sweeping up the sprint for second place, which might prove enough for him to carry the green jersey to Santiago di Compostela on Sunday, while Filippo Pozzato (Lampre-Merida) showed signs of life ahead of the world championships by claiming third on the stage ahead of Yannick Martinez (Europcar) and Matthews.
General classification unchanged
The early part of the stage was marked by a three-man break featuring Wout Poels (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), Laurent Mangel (FDJ.fr) and Pim Ligthart (Lotto Belisol), who escaped after 25 kilometres but never succeeded in extending their lead much beyond three minutes.
That trio was swept up on the approach to the days primary obstacle, the category 2 Alto Monte Faro, where the forcing of Chris Froomes Sky team, and Pete Kennaugh in particular, ensured that there were no attacks from the general classification contenders. Instead, the selection came from behind, as the pack was whittled down to fifty or so riders, and the only man to punch his way clear was Alexey Lutsensko (Astana), who led over the summit with 15 kilometres remaining.
Lutsensko, too, would be caught on the descent, where Samuel Sanchez (BMC) briefly escaped the clutches of the peloton, sending the overall contenders scampering to the front. The uneven downhill section also saw Skys Dario Cataldo come a cropper, though mercifully the Italian was able to remount and complete the stage.
For Alberto Contador, it was, on the face of things, a relatively tranquil day in the red jersey. The Tinkoff-Saxo man was vigilant towards the head of the peloton on the Monte Faro without ever being extended, and he maintains his lead of 1:19 over Chris Froome and 1:32 on Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).
Two days from the finish, Contadors advantage is an imposing one and he stands on the brink of landing a remarkable Vuelta victory after fracturing his tibia during the Tour de France in July. With the summit finish at the Pajares and a short time trial in Santiago to come, however, he is aware that the race is not quite run, and will have noted, too, that there are bullish noises emanating from the Sky camp ahead of the final weekend.
Anything can happen in a bike race, we all know that, Froomes manager Dave Brailsford said. Were certainly not settling for the podium.