Coverage started with a 30-rider break up the road, including KOM leader Omar Fraile, Tour Down Under winner Rohan Dennis, half of Astana, Tony Gallopin, Tim Wellens, Tony Martin, Tom-Jelte Slagter and, in a stunning turn of events, showing his face for the first time since he won Paris-Nice and immediately started eating his weight in bocadillos, yes, it's Carlos Betancur. As big a group as that wasn't going to be given much leeway, and of course Sky rode on the front for the GC leader (who's coming back from a rather different hiatus) Sergio Henao. They kept the gap at a still healthy, but manageable considering the terrain, 4 minutes by 60 kilometres to go.
Considering the fact that Astana had the biggest representation in the break, especially in climbing terms with Agnoli, Taaramae and Landa, it wasn't surprising that they sent a minion in Valerio Agnoli to keep the pace up. The pressure was still high, and Cherel and sure enough Betancur were struggling near the top of the 2nd category Alkizia with 55 km to go.
Meanwhile, there was yet another crash in an already strewn race, with former Lombardy winner Oliver Zaugg going down on a descent. He looked barely conscious. However, according to the people who know these things, he was escorted to hospital in a neck brace, but fortunately conscious.
Agnoli continued to pull, and the gap stayed at just under 4 minutes. Back in the peloton, Rodríguez had his team on the front, expecting to win again. They began to really push, and the gap began to freefall. It was down to three minutes with 40 kilometres left as, bizarrely, BMC's Phillippe Gilbert attacked the peloton, hoping to bridge the gap. Mollema then crashed into Frank Schleck. He was bloodied and bruised. Bob Jungels, however, paced him back to the peloton.
With 20 kilometres to go, they began to go up the Alto de Aia for the first time, as Movistar surged to the front for the first time all day, still holding out hope that Nairo Quintana could finally attack to take some time as in the break Astana's Rein Taaramae took the initiative and attacked. No one followed him initially, but as the gradients reared up into the twenties, Tony Martin sat on the front of the break to chase him down, shelling half the riders.
There were now just 6 riders in the group behind Taaramae now, as he began to extend his advantage on the group, now led by Tim Wellens, to 9 seconds. The riders slowed to a crawl. Names like Arredondo were now dropped.
As the peloton passed through, none other than Kwiatkowski, dropped on the last two stages, attacked early, hoping to regain some time.
With 15 kilometres to go, Taaramae had been recaptured by the next group, and then there were 5. Tom Danielson, Rein Taaramae, Mikel Landa, Tim Wellens and Tony Gallopin. Behind, Martin had dropped back to pace Kwiatkowski, who had already passed the lion's share of the breakaway, attacking the third group on the road. He was flying. They had 36 seconds by 7.3 kilometres to go.
The lead group hit the penultimate climb, but worked together, as they knew that they needed all the time they could get if they weren't going to be recaptured. Taaramae took the bulk of the work, helped by Wellens. The peloton began to realise the danger they were in from Kwiatkowski, and chased hard, taking 10 seconds from his lead. Gallopin was then dropped from the break.
Kwiatkowski had 15 seconds as the peloton passed through the 5 kilometres to go banner, he was looking tired. On the descent, Ion Izagirre attacked, trying to pull Quintana clear as the break hit the final climb, with Tom Danielson immediately taking the initiative, hoping to give Cannondale-Garmin their first WT victory. He dropped Taaramae. Tony Martin continued to pull Kwiatkowski around the Basque Country.
The peloton then hit the climb. Simon Yates attacked, again proving the Orica scouts right. He bridged up to Kwiatkowski.
In the break, the stage was decided. In the last couple of hundred metres, Tim Wellens attacked, dropping Tom Danielson, but the strongest rider was Landa, who crossed the line, clapping his hands.
Yates was the strongest in the peloton, cresting first of the GC riders, finishing a couple of seconds ahead of Henao and Rodríguez, but the biggest shock was the fact that Quintana was dropped, losing 12 seconds to Henao.
Tomorrow they ride the hilly TT. Now, Quintan is good at these sorts of things, he won it in 2013, but he was in better form in 2013. A danger is Tejay van Garderen, 36 seconds down, but he is also a little out of sorts, and is unlikely to regain that much in 18 kilometres.
In the longer, but not entirely incomparable 2103 TT, Quintana was better than everyone but Martin, and if he rides like that again, he will win. He is still favourite.