Belgian rider Thomas de Gendt made the most of his experience and strength to win the 19th stage of the Vuelta a España cycling race, while Briton Chris Froome remained the overall leader.
The 30-year-old Lotto Soudal rider was the first to reach the finish line of the 149.7-kilometer (93-mile) stage here on Friday, recording a time of 3 hours, 35 minutes and 46 seconds, ahead of Colombia’s Jarlinson Pantano (Trek) and Spain’s Ivan Garcia Cortina (Bahrain), reports Efe news agency.
The title contenders reached the finish line 13 minutes and 13 seconds off the pace after fending off an attack launched by Spaniard Alberto Contador (Trek).
Froome (Team Sky) stayed on top of the general classification with a 1.37-minute advantage over Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain) and 2.17 minutes ahead of Dutchman Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb).
While De Gendt was in the lead in the climb of Falla de Los Lobos and Pola de Siero Trentin, the 21-year-old Garcia Cortina, making his debut in a major race, launched an attack.
With 30 kilometers to go the youngest among the cyclists had a one-minute advantage over the peloton heading to Alto de San Martin de Huerces climb.
Frenchman Romain Bardet (Team Ag2r-La Mondiale) caught up with Garcia Cortina joined by Portuguese Rui Costa (UAE Team Emirates) and Roche.
While the four of them were on the way down, Contador climbed San Martin de Huerces, 39 seconds ahead of Froome and the other contenders.
Five more cyclists, including De Gendt, joined the breakaway. In the final stretch the Belgian rider had no mercy, as he got the better of Garcia Cortina.
“I had to do the sprint of my life, just go full until the finish. I’m really happy that I can finish it off with a finish,” De Gendt said.
“I wasn’t feeling well in the first week. The second week was okay. I was doing better in the third week but it wasn’t really my type of routes,” he added.
“The final climb was too steep for me but we had a good group with Bob Jungels and we pulled very hard to get back. It was perfect for me. I didn’t expect it very much but I like surprises,” the Belgian said.
With 2.5 kilometers to go, Froome challenged Contador, blocking the Spaniard’s attack to retain his advantage at the top of the general classification with two more stages to go.
“Contador certainly can’t be blamed for the lack of trying. In every stage, he’s been attacking and today was exactly the same,” Froome said.
“For me, it was about trying to save as much energy as possible for tomorrow and get through the day without much issues, so I’m happy to let the day behind us and focus on tomorrow,” he added.
Saturday’s 20th and penultimate stage will run between Corvera and Alto de L’Angliru for a 117.5-kilometer stretch.
“Angliru is going to be rude, but it’s an explosive and short stage, so we can expect fireworks from the start. There’s some though climbs before the Angliru. Everybody is tired at this point of the race, but I feel good,” Froome said.