Robert Gesink of the Netherlands won the Vuelta a Espana’s grueling 14th stage in the French Pyrenees on Saturday, while Nairo Quintana maintained his lead over Chris Froome.
Quintana launched no less than six attacks against Froome on the last of four mountain ascents, but the Tour de France winner responded each time to stay within a minute of the Colombian climber entering the race’s final week.
Gesink, riding for Lotto NL-Jumbo, fought off leg cramps as he surged ahead of Kenny Elissonde and Egor Silin to win the 196km route finishing at the Col d’Aubisque category-one summit after nearly six hours.
It was Gesink’s first win at a grand tour.
“I was not sure I could do it, but I kept on fighting,” he said.
The route, which started in Urdax, Spain, before crossing into France, was described by race organizers as one of the most demanding in the 71 editions of the Vuelta.
It lived up to its billing, with three category-one climbs setting up the ascent to the Col d’Aubisque, a classic on the Tour with its breathtaking views.
The route offered the chance for team directors to use tactics to shake up the overall standings.
Orica-BikeExchange proved the most astute as it succeeded in moving riders Esteban Chaves and Simon Yates into third and fourth-place overall respectively.
While Chaves pulled away late and moved to within two minutes of the lead, an attack by Yates on the third ascent helped him knock almost two minutes off the gap with Quintana and move into contention.
Quintana’s Movistar teammate, Alejandro Valverde, was the major victim of the mountain marathon, fading fast at the start of the last climb. The former Vuelta winner lost nine minutes in the overall standings and plummeted from third place to 19th.
The race continued on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees yesterday, with a 118.5km route from Sabinanigo to a category-one finish at Sallent de Gallego.
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