Vincenzo Nibali kept his overall lead, despite struggling in the Tour of Spain’s final Pyrenees stage on Monday, a 146.8km journey from Graus won by Frenchman Warren Barguil.
The Italian lost touch with his main title rivals 2km from the summit of the Sallent de Gallego climb at the end of Stage 16, while second-placed American Chris Horner gained 22 seconds on the race leader.
Yesterday was a rest day and Nibali will take a slender 28-second advantage over Horner into Stage 17, with third-placed Spaniard Alejandro Valverde having also closed the gap to 1 minute, 14 seconds.
Nibali said that being in front for 11 of the past 16 days was starting to take its toll.
“Having this jersey is getting very wearisome, with all the media responsibilities and a lot of time spent traveling between stages,” the Astana rider told reporters. “This was a very difficult finish, very windy at the top of the climb. I’m not really doubting my strength, I’m still optimistic, but the rest day will be very important for me tomorrow.”
Horner said overall victory was still in the Italian’s hands.
“Anything can happen, it all depends on Nibali,” the American said. “If he weakens just a little, then everything becomes possible.”
Horner, 41, became the oldest-ever Grand Tour leader when he held first position for two days in the first week.
On Monday, a rider 20 years his junior captured his second stage win of the race.
Part of a break by 17 riders, Argos rider Barguil made a solo move 10km from the finish, before being caught by Rigoberto Uran of Colombia.
Team Sky’s Uran attempted to overpower his rival, but the Frenchman won by centimeters. Pole Bartosz Huzarksi was in third spot, three seconds back.
“I wasn’t feeling well earlier in the stage and I had problems when I got in yesterday’s breakaway, so I decided not to do too much early on and go for a late attack,” said Barguil, who also won Stage 13 to Casteldefels. “I already had one stage win in the bag, so I decided to stay calm when Uran reached me and hope it would work out in the sprint.”
Asked how he kept his cool against more experienced riders, Barguil replied: “Whenever I’m in good form, I try too hard. I’m always scared of doing too much, so I just keep on telling myself to see it all as a game.”
The race ends in Madrid on Sunday.