Sepp Kuss is just six stages away from his maiden Grand Tour victory, leading a Jumbo-Visma one-two-three as the race heads into its final week.
The American took the leader's red jersey after stage eight and leads his teammate Primoz Roglic by a minute and 37 seconds, with another colleague, Jonas Vingegaard, a further seven seconds back.
Team UAE Emirates Juan Ayuso, who came good in the final week last year to become the youngest ever rider to make the podium, is two minutes and 37 seconds back. Meanwhile, Movistar's Enric Mas, who always seems to save his best for the closing days of the Vuelta, is three minutes and six seconds adrift.
It looks like Kuss' race to lose but the strength of his colleagues, with Roglic eyeing a record-equalling fourth Vuelta crown and Vingegaard's record of coming good late in races, could prove difficult to manage, especially with the pedigree of those behind.
|What||Vuelta a Espana 2023|
|Where||Spain, France and Andorra|
|When||Saturday 26th August - Sunday 17th September|
|How to watch||GCN+, Discovery+ and Eurosport|
|Odds||Sepp Kuss 4/9, Jonas Vingegaard 10/3, Primoz Roglic 11/2, Juan Ayuso 33/1, Enric Mas 66/1|
The week started with a bang as Ineos-Grenadiers' Filippo Ganna won the time-trial on the first day back after the first rest day before Cofidis' Jesus Herrada won in La Laguna Negra.
UAE Team Emirates' Juan Sebastian Molano then scored a stage win for the second straight year by winning the sprint into Zaragoza but Thursday felt like a free shot for the quick men, with the teams gearing up for Friday's ride into France and up the Col du Tourmalet.
Despite measuring just 135km, it was a monster day, starting at 1600m of altitude and also taking in the Col d'Aubisque and Col de Spandelles.
Jumbo's strength shone through, with Vingegaard breaking clear to win by 30 seconds ahead of Kuss and 33 clear of Roglic.
The performance was a real statement of intent and has arguably made it certain that the Dutch squad will win all three Grand Tours in 2023.
|1||Sepp Kuss||Team Jumbo-Visma|
54h 38' 42"
|2||Primoz Roglic||Team Jumbo-Visma|
+ 1' 37"
|3||Jonas Vingegaard||Team Jumbo-Visma|
+ 1' 44"
|4||Juan Ayuso||UAE Team Emirates|
+ 2' 37""
|5||Enric Mas||Movistar Team|
+ 3' 06"
|6||Marc Soler||UAE Team Emirates|
+ 3' 10"
|7||Mikel Landa||Team Bahrain Victorious|
+ 4' 12"
+ 5' 02"
+ 5' 30"
|10||Joao Almeida||UAE Team Emirates|
+ 8' 39"
The other storyline to emerge from Friday's stage on the Tourmalet was Remco Evenepoel cracking and in spectacular style. The defending champion conceded 27 minutes to Vingegaard to tumble down the standings and surrender his hopes of defending his title.
Evenepoel's status in the peloton and achievements despite his tender age of 23 means the media magnify his errors but the pre-race doubts over his ability in the real high mountains came to fruition.
However, he bounced back on Saturday, getting in the break and leading Romain Bardet up the closing climb, Puerto de Belagua, before beating the Frenchman by a minute and 12 seconds.
The Soudal-Quick-Step rider attacked again on Sunday but lost out to Rui Costa.
At 16 minutes off the lead, the Belgian champion has free reign for the final week and could look to blow the race apart again in a bid to both seal the mountains classification and move up from 15th on the general classification.
Jumbo remain well in charge of the race, occupying the top three places in the standings but it remains a surprise to see Kuss in charge.
The American has supported Roglic to victory at the Giro d'Italia and Vingegaard at the Tour. Few riders can ride three Grand Tours in a year, let alone be prominent in all of them but Kuss is set to complete the hat-trick and may do so with a victory.
He is a minute and 37 seconds clear of Roglic and a further seven seconds ahead of Vingegaard - will he hold on? Will they attack? There are two official mountain days left, but Tuesday's uphill finish to Bejes could prove tricky, while one of the other riders in the mix may look to attack on the penultimate day, which is a lumpy route with little respite.
Kuss is odds-on to win the Vuelta and it would be fitting if he rides into Madrid wearing red. The 28-year-old has been a loyal lieutenant in recent years and looks set to be rewarded if he can make it through the final five days before Sunday's ceremonial stage into the Spanish capital.