Alejandro Valverde came out on top in a late battle between some of the sport's biggest stars to win the sixth stage of the Vuelta a Espana, and in the process reclaim the leader's red jersey.

The 2009 Vuelta winner was part of a four-man group including former Tour de France champions Chris Froome and Alberto Contador, and Joaquim Rodriguez,that were bidding to claim honours on the 167.1-kilometres ride from Benalmadena to La Zubia.

All four fought for the victory but in the end it was Valverde who broke away for the win on the 2014 Vuelta's first summit finish, with Britain's Froome taking second and Contador third, all three finishing with the same time of four hours, 35 minutes and 27 seconds.

Rodriguez came home eight seconds further back to make it three Spaniards in the top four while, perhaps most crucially, Vuelta favourite Nairo Quintana of Colombia was 12 seconds behind the leading trio in fifth.

The result of all that means Valverde - the leader after the second stage - replaces Michael Matthews at the top of the general classification, with Movistar team-mate Quintana his nearest challenger 15 seconds back. Two-time champion Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) is third, 18 seconds adrift.

Ireland’s Dan Martin is 17th in the general classification after finishing 18th on the stage, while compatriot Philip Deignan was well off the pace in 132nd and lies 79th overall.

The late drama came after a day which saw Lluis Mas Bonet and Pim Ligthart setting the pace for much of the stage.

The duo broke away early on and, after the attempts of a six-man group to join them failed, managed to open up a massive gap of more than 14 minutes - the biggest of the Vuelta so far.

They were still clear heading into the closing stages but had been gradually reeled in and Bonet, who in his first Grand Tour has been keen to go on the attack and holds the polka dot jersey, was the first to be swallowed up.

Ligthart continued to hold off the peloton for a while longer as the riders embarked on the first category Alto de las Cumbres Verdes climb to the finish line, before he was finally caught with three kilometres to go.

After that it was a battle for the stage victory, with Movistar duo of Valverde and Quintana leading the charge and the likes of Froome and Contador sticking close by.

Rodriguez was the first to make his move, launching his attack with around 600 metres, but he was unable to escape and in the end it was Valverde who had the power to take the triumph.