Australian Simon Clarke won stage five of La Vuelta as Rudy Molard took the leader’s red jersey off the shoulders of Team Sky’s Michal Kwiatkowski.
Education First-Drapac’s Clarke beat Trek-Segafredo’s Bauke Mollema and BMC’s Alessandro De Marchi in a three-man sprint at the end of the 188.7km stage from Granada to Roquetas de Mar.
They had been part of a 25-man breakaway which also included Groupama-FDJ’s Molard, who came home in a second group just eight seconds behind.
With the main peloton, including Kwiatkowski, not crossing the line for another four minutes and 47 seconds, Molard goes into the red jersey by 61 seconds from the Polish rider.
It was the second straight day stage honours had gone to the breakaway following Ben King’s victory on stage four, but where the Dimension Data rider fell short of taking red from Kwiatkowski 24 hours earlier, Molard succeeded this time.
There was plenty of climbing on the day but the stage would be defined by the long descent to the finish. It was there Clarke, Mollema and De Marchi broke clear while Molard joined Davide Villella (Astana) and Floris De Tier (LottoNL) in a counter-attack.
Team Sky did initially chase in defence of the red jersey but it was clear as they reached the foot of the descent they were content for Molard to take it as they focused on marking the other general classification hopefuls.
It was a second Vuelta stage win for the 33-year-old Clarke, with the other coming back in 2012.
“It’s just amazing,” he said. “I’ve worked so hard since I last won a stage here and I just couldn’t repeat it. It’s taken me so long to get back there and have my stars aligned. Even today I wasn’t sure it was possible.
“I knew I had good legs but when you have a breakaway with so many riders the cooperation is not very good. The winning move went on the descent so it was a tricky one to pick. I knew I had good legs, I just had to pray the moves I was doing were the right ones.”
Mitchelton-Scott’s Simon Yates was safely in the main bunch and now sits fourth overall, 71 seconds behind Molard.
Mark Cavendish will take an enforced break from cycling after being diagnosed with Epstein-Barr virus, commonly known as glandular fever, for a second time in 18 months.
The 33-year-old has won 30 Tour de France stages, four behind the record held by Belgium’s Eddy Merckx.
His Team Dimension Data squad announced the news on Wednesday. Cavendish was also diagnosed with Epstein-Barr virus in April 2017.
Cavendish last won a Tour stage in 2016 and was eliminated from this year’s race after missing the time limit on the mountainous 11th stage in the Alps.
He said: “I’ve been advised to take a period of total rest in order to fully recover.”
Team Dimension Data said Cavendish had been “unknowingly training and racing with EBV over recent months”.
The Manxman was first diagnosed with the virus, which is an illness associated with fever, sore throat, swollen lymph nodes in the neck, and sometimes an enlarged spleen, in April 2017.
“This season I’ve not felt physically myself and despite showing good numbers on the bike I have felt that there’s been something not right,” Cavendish said.
“Given this and on the back of these medical results, I’m glad to now finally have some clarity as to why I haven’t been able to perform at my optimum level during this time.
“I’m now looking forward to taking the time necessary in order to get back to 100 per cent fitness before then returning to racing again at peak physical condition.”
Cavendish experienced disappointment in 2017, crashing out of the 2017 Tour sustaining a shoulder injury.
Following his elimination from this year’s Tour, he had been scheduled to ride for Great Britain earlier this month at the European Championships in Glasgow.
However, he withdrew on “medical advice”.
It is unlikely the 2011 world champion would have been in the Great Britain team for September’s Road World Championships in Innsbruck, Austria, due to the mountainous nature of the course.
The event usually marks the end of the season and now Cavendish can take his time to recover for 2019.
The 29-year-old Quick-Step Floors rider carried into La Vuelta the superb form that propelled him to a well-deserved win at the Cyclassics Hamburg one week ago and at the Italian national road championships in June, comfortably sprinting to victory on the race’s third stage.
Stage 3 saw the peloton travel from Mijas over 178.2 kilometers that packed a total of 2,600 meters of elevation and a 20km-long first-category climb in the first part of the day.
“This wonderful season continues with a beautiful and very special moment,” said Viviani, who is enjoying a superb 2018.
“First Vuelta win, first Grand Tour victory in the Italian champion jersey, all these make up for a perfect day, but I couldn’t have pulled it off without this incredible team, who did again a marvelous job.
“It was difficult to control such a tough stage by our own for 90 per cent of the time, but we prevailed again thanks to the Wolfpack’s fantastic spirit.”
A beaming Viviani captured his 16th success of the year.
Quick-Step did what they know best on Monday, controlling a six-man breakaway for the most part of the day, not panicking even with 40km to go, when five riders attacked from the bunch trying to stir things up, and bringing everything back together 10km from the finish, before taking Viviani to the front with the flamme rouge in sight.
Led out by Danish Champion Michael Morkov, Viviani made his jump inside the final 200 meters and put in a storming sprint, beating Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek-Segafredo) and Peter Sagan (Bora-hansgrohe) by a bike length.
Viviani, riding La Vuelta for the second time in his career, was eyeing this stage before the start of the race and at the finish was full of praise for his teammates, who perfectly executed the plan concocted at the pre-stage briefing in Mijas.
“There’s no such thing as an easy stage in a Grand Tour, and especially in the Vuelta, where he had a lot of climbing in store for what on the roadbook presented itself was a flat stage,” he added.
“We knew what to expect, because we did a recon last week, so Kasper (Asgreen) and Pieter (Serry) pulled at the front the entire day, then as we got closer to the finish, Dries (Devenyns) kept a high speed, before Michael put me in an ideal position, from where I went immediately as I noticed Sagan making his move.
“With some tailwind, I felt that it was the right moment to go and I am happy for how things panned out in the end.”
Viviani – who netted Quick-Step Floors’ 85th Grand Tour stage victory – wasn’t the only rider of the team to take it to the podium on Monday afternoon.
Laurens De Plus, who wore the white jersey of the combined classification, retained his fourth place in the overall standings and was rewarded with the best young rider prize.
“The goal was to control the stage and win it with Elia, and having accomplished that makes up happy,” said De Plus ahead of Stage 4, which will finish on the 12.4km-long climb of Sierra de la Alfaguara.
“We are having a great start to the Vuelta a Espana, I feel good and I’m now curious to see how my legs will respond in the high mountains.”