Ireland's Dan Martin won a thrilling battle for stage three honours on the Vuelta a Espana on Thursday, and now trails race leader Primoz Roglic by just five seconds.
As a select group jostled for position atop a steep climb veteran Martin put in a concerted bid to outsprint Roglic and Richard Carapaz, who was third on the stage and is also third overall.
"This one's for the wife," said a tearful Martin at the hilltop finish.
"It's my first win since I joined the new team too," said the Israel Start Up Nation captain who will be joined next season by Chris Froome.
"I’ve come so close to winning this year. I just really wanted to win a stage for this team because they’ve been so good to me.
"The sponsors have supported us all through Covid. Sylvan Adams and Ron Baron the owners, there were no salary cuts or anything like that," said Martin, who won a Vuelta stage nine years ago.
Martin led the team at the Tour de France but due to a fall was unable to challenge there.
The newly formed Israeli team recently won a stage on the Giro d'Italia with England's Alex Dowsett on stage 8.
Two-time Vuelta winner Froome fell off the pace on the final 8km climb around halfway up and is already some 30 minutes adrift on the 18 stage Vuelta.
There was little wind as the race went through the Rioja wine region before traversing a vast, bleak almost treeless plateau.
The 166km run form Lososa to Laguna Negra may have been a sign of things to come weatherwise as riders all wore jackets in the run through pine forests and misty rain ahead of the final climb.
Colombia's Esteban Chaves dropped from fourth overnight to eighth 1min 29sec down after a puncture with just a couple of kilometres to race.
- Vuelta loses French mountain and French ace -
French climb specialist Thibaut Pinot has pulled out of the Vuelta after inflaming a sore back he picked up during the Tour de France.
"After a respite from the back pain that had handicapped Thibaut following his fall in Nice, it has again greatly hampered him during the first and second stages of the Vuelta," his team said.
Matej Mohoric of Bahrain-McLaren also pulled out after an accident.
The Vuelta's struggle against Covid-19 took a new turn Thursday as Sunday's foray into France and a summit finish atop the legendary Tourmalet climb in the Pyrenees was cut from the race due to the French curfew.
"Whatever happens we'll try and provide a great stage on Sunday," Vuelta director Javier Guillén said announcing a summit finish at the ski station Aramón-Formigal after three mountain passes.
"It'll be a great show," he promised.
The three day start in the Netherlands was already called off culling the race to 18 stages, while a three day sojourn in Portugal was rejigged for Spain.