Alejandro Valverde overtook overall leader Joaquin Rodriguez and Alberto Contador on the final climb to win the eighth stage of the Spanish Vuelta on Saturday.
Valverde surged past the pair after the last turn to cap a grueling climb over the closing kilometers in a winning time of 4 hours, 6 minutes, 39 seconds.
Contador, competing in his first major race after missing the Tour deFrance because of a doping ban, struggled in the Andorran Pyrenees before giving way to finish in the same time.
"We're racing so fast it's at a vertigo pace,'' Rodriguez said.
"Against (Christopher) Froome, Contador and Valverde it's difficult, they're beasts. Competing in these climbs, your goal has to be about finishing first.''
"Against (Christopher) Froome, Contador and Valverde it's difficult, they're beasts. Competing in these climbs, your goal has to be about finishing first"
Overall leader Joaquin Rodriguez
Froome couldn't keep up with the Spanish trio as Sky's British rider ultimately buckled over the closing stages to finish 15 seconds behind in fourth.
"It was really tough today against (the leaders), it's definitely an exciting race,'' said Froome, who is coming off a runner-up finish at the Tour de France. Asked if the long season was leaving him stretched for strength, Froome replied: "I hope not or else I'm going to be in for two weeks of very hard racing.''
Froome was the only rider in the top seven that wasn't Spanish as the 67th Spanish classic left the country's borders for the only time. Sunday's ninth stage is a near 200- kilometer run south into Barcelona, where teams will then get the first rest day of the three week race on Monday.
Rodriguez's overall time of 29:59:35 allowed the Katusha rider to stretch 23 seconds to his overall lead over Froome, which now stands at 33 seconds.
Contador dropped four seconds to sit 40 seconds back while Valverde gained four seconds to trail Rodriguez by 50 seconds.
Contador and Froome will be eyeing Wednesday's 11th stage time trial as a chance to make up ground knowing they are stronger in the discipline than Rodriguez, who lost the Giro d'Italia to Canadian cyclist Ryder Hesjedal on the final day's time trial.
"Until the time trial we won't know what our options'' of winning are, Rodriguez said.
"The important thing is to be there in the mix.''