Spaniard Pablo Lastras battled through searing heat on Monday to claim victory on the Vuelta a Espana’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°C, the 35-year-old Movistar rider launched a solo attack from a break of four on the final climb of the day.
He completed the 163km ride from Petrer to Totana in 3 hours, 58 minutes to take the red jersey for the overall leader.
Lastras pointed to the sky repeatedly as he crossed the line in Totana, in memory of Spanish teammate Xavi Tondo, who died in a freak domestic accident earlier this year, and Belgian Wouter Weylandt, who was killed in a crash on the Giro d’Italia.
Colombian teammate Juan Mauricio Soler is still recovering from the serious injuries he suffered in a crash at the Tour of Switzerland in June.
Second, 15 seconds back, was French national champion Sylvain Chavanel, with Spain’s Markel Irizar in third.
Lastras broke away on his own about 6km from the finish of a leg that featured just two short climbs.
“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,” he added.
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.”
“We were due,’’ Lastras added. “It was a deserved victory ... I was well motivated to lift my arms.”
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 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 favorites, together with double Vuelta winner Denis Menchov of Russia, whose bike had a mechanical problem late on in the stage.
The Geox rider’s sports director Joxean Fernandez said Menchov, who was third in last year’s Tour de France and a top-10 finisher in this year’s Giro d’Italia, had no illness concerns that might be causing him to have a rough ride in Spain.
“It’s a bit of everything — average form, he was a bit too far back on the climb and then he had a problem with his saddle just when the bunch split,” Fernandez said. “He chased hard on the descent, but by then it was too late.”
Menchov is now 75th overall, 4 minutes, 1 second down on Lastras.
British sprinter Mark Cavendish, dropped with 60km to go, finished more than 12 minutes down in a large group of stragglers.
“He’s fine,” Cavendish’s sports director Jens Zemke said. “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.”