Almadn - Spanish veteran Alejandro Valverde kept his composure on a tricky finish to claim an unexpected victory on the eighth stage of the Tour of Spain on Saturday.
Frenchman Rudy Molard, of the Groupama team, held on to the race leader's red jersey after finishing safely among the peloton.
Molard will start Sunday's hilly ninth stage, a 200-kilometre ride from Talavera de la Reina to the ski station of La Covatilla with a 37sec lead on Valverde and a 51sec lead on fourth-placed Briton Simon Yates.
Organisers had added spice to the finale of the 195.5km race from Linares, the peloton forced to practically turn back on itself after negotiating a roundabout inside the final kilometre.
But Valderde held his nerve to stay in sprint contention and proved strongest in a tight, uphill finish to pip three-time world champion Peter Sagan to the honours.
Sagan, of the Bora team, finished third with Dutchman Danny von Poppel (LottoNL-Jumbo) in third place.
The Slovakian had secured a record-equalling sixth green jersey for the points competition and won three stages at the Tour de France in July, but appears to be paying for those efforts.
After a third-place finish on Monday, Sagan edged closer to a stage win on Friday where he finished second behind Frenchman Tony Gallopin.
On a finish that should have been to Sagan's liking on Saturday, the Slovakian was left counting his losses again as Valverde came from out behind his wheel to claim his second stage win of this edition.
"I was told how difficult the finish was and that I could even lose time there," said Valverde, who claimed it had not been his plan to win the stage.
"As a result, I'd planned not to try and go for the stage win but just not to lose time.
"But then I followed Sagan's wheel and in the end overtook him. I know I'm on form, but I even surprised myself."
Although 38 years old, Valverde said: "My age doesn't reflect my physical form or my mentality."
And on Sunday's stage in the high mountains, he will be hoping to show his younger rivals he can remain in overall victory contention.
"It's a real mountain stage tomorrow (Sunday)," said Valverde.
"We should really see who has what it takes to make the podium of this Tour of Spain."
Results from the eighth stage of the Tour of Spain, a 195 km ride from Linares to Almaden:
1. Alejandro Valverde (ESP/Movistar) 4hr 35min 54sec, 2. Peter Sagan (SVK/BOR) same time, 3. Danny von Poppel (NED/LNL) s.t., 4. Ion Izagirre (ESP/BAH) s.t., 5. Giacomo Nizzolo (ITA/TRE) s.t., 6. Jesus Herrada (ESP/COF) s.t., 7. Simon Yates (GBR/MIT) s.t., 8. Bjorg Lambrecht (BEL/LOT) s.t., 9 Ivan Garcia (ESP/BAH) s.t., 10. Steven Kruijswijk (NED/LNL) s.t.
1. Rudy Molard (FRA/GRP) 31hr 20min 34sec, 2. Alejandro Valverde (ESP/MOV) at 37secs, 3. Emanuel Buchmann (GER/BOR) 48, 4. Simon Yates (GBR/MIT) 51, 5. Tony Gallopin (FRA/A2R) 59, 6. Michal Kwiatkowski (POL/SKY) 1min 06sec, 7. Ion Izagirre (ESP/BAH) 1:11, 8. Nairo Quintana (COL/MOV) 1:14, 9. Steven Kruijswijk (NED/LNL) 1:18, 10. Enric Mas (ESP/QST) 1:23