Spain’s Joaquim Rodriguez edged closer to the Tour of Spain title after finishing third in the race’s toughest mountain stage behind winner Italy’s Dario Cataldo on Monday.
Rodriguez had successfully fended off three major attacks by Spain’s Alberto Contador on the daunting final climb of Cuitu Negru, 23km long and with slopes of up to 24 percent.
The Katusha rider finally darted ahead of Contador on the relentlessly steep final 500m ascent to claim third place and a four-second time bonus. It allowed him to stretch his overall lead by a further two seconds.
After three strong mountain-top finishes, Rodriguez opened a 28-second advantage over Contador, with Spain’s Alejandro Valverde trailing more than two minutes behind in third.
Rodriguez identified the race’s one tough mountain-top finish in the Bola del Mundo outside Madrid on Saturday as the biggest obstacle between himself and victory.
“This is a big step forward, above all because I’ve got good sensations and I felt good throughout the climb,” Rodriguez, second in this year’s Giro d’Italia, told reporters.
“I always said my big objective was to reach the end of these mountainous stages in northern Spain as leader and then take it from there,” he said. “There’s still a long way to go, six days racing, but the seconds I took today on my rivals are a little bit more of an advantage for me. I can be satisfied. The most difficult part of the Vuelta is behind us now.”