Alvaro Barrientos/AP/Press Association Images
# La Vuelta
Vuelta á Espana: Valverde on top as battle for red sparks to life
Ireland’s Nicolas Roche is 11th overall after he finished in a small group six seconds behind Valverde in Eibar today.

Result: SPAIN’S ALEJANDRO VALVERDE (Movistar) came out on top in a brilliant game of cat-and-mouse which saw a host of general classification contenders vying to win stage three.

Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) finished second ahead of Christopher Froome (Team Sky).

Valverde takes control of the red jersey, 18 seconds clear of his Movistar team-mate Benat Intxausti. Rodriguez is a second back in third while Froome is a further second back again. GC favourite Alberto Contador is fifth, 24 seconds behind Valverde.

Here’s how it happened: The race for the Vuelta’s famous red jersey exploded into life as the peloton took on the first mountains of this year’s tour. At just over 155 kilometres, Monday’s third stage from Faustino V to Eibar was relatively short but its climbs guaranteed plenty of action from the outset.

The stage had hardly begun when Belgium’s Philippe Gilbert helped drive an eight-man breakaway away from the peloton. More than four minutes separated the escapees from the chasing pack at the half-way point before Movistar, the team of overnight GC leader Jonathan Castroviejo, and Britain’s Team Sky took turns to up the pace.

Once the peloton had been reunited inside the final 10 kilometres, the tactical battle began as Contador’s Saxo Bank team stretched the main contenders out. With Rodriguez, Valverde and Froome in close attention, Contador tried time and again to strike out for home.

Each effort was repelled, including one last fling inside the final kilometre, before Valverde came from behind to pip Rodriguez in a sprint to the line.

How did Nico do? Brilliantly. Roche finished 11th today, in a group of nine riders six seconds behind Valverde. That moves him up to 11th overall in the GC, 52 seconds off the red jersey.

What happens tomorrow then? Another short(ish) mountain stage — and hopefully more drama — as the peloton makes the 155km trek from Barakaldo to Valdezcaray.