TOTANA, Spain, Aug 22 ( Reuters ) - Spaniard Pablo Lastras battled through searing heat on Monday to claim victory in the Tour of Spain's third stage, marking his first win in more than three years and his first ever lead in a major Tour.
As temperatures soared to over 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit), the 35-year-old Movistar rider launched a solo attack from a break of four on the final climb of the day.
Lastras pointed to the sky repeatedly as he crossed the line in Totana, in memory of Spanish team mate Xavi Tondo, who died in a freak domestic accident earlier this year, and Belgian Wouter Weylandt, who was killed in a crash in the Tour of Italy.
Second, 15 seconds back, was French national champion Sylvain Chavanel, with Spain's Markel Irizar in third.
"I treated this stage as a one-day Classic, I don't care if I lose 30 minutes tomorrow," veteran Lastras, who turned pro in 1998, told reporters.
"It was a textbook victory -- attack close to the summit of the final ascent then go all out on the last descent to open up a gap.
"But they say being experienced automatically gives you an advantage in this sport, and I've certainly been around for quite a while."
One of just three Spanish riders in the peloton, together with Juan Manuel Garate and Alberto Contador, to have won stages in all three major Tours, Lastras said his latest victory was not the most important of his 13-year career.
"My Giro d'Italia stage win in 2001 was the one that launched my career after a lot of bad luck and that mattered the most," he said. "Today, though, is probably the most emotional of them all."
Lastras' late break enabled him to scoop the top spot in the King of the Mountains, the points and the overall standings.
The intense heat helped the peloton to shrink to just 45 riders when Team Sky picked up the pace on the final climb of La Santa.
Overnight leader Daniele Bennati of Italy finished 1 minute 23 seconds adrift of the other favourites, together with double Tour of Spain winner Denis Menchov of Russia whose bike had a mechanical problem late on in the stage.
British sprinter Mark Cavendish, dropped with 60 kilometres to go, finished more than 12 minutes down in a large group of stragglers.
"He's fine," Cavendish's sports director Jens Zemke told Reuters. "But if you're from the Isle of Man like Mark where it's about 20 degrees cooler than here in August, you're always going to suffer in this heat."
The Tour of Spain finishes on Sept. 11 in Madrid.