Czech Zdenek Stybar defeated world road race champion Philippe Gilbert by centimeters on stage seven of the Vuelta a Espana on Friday to seize his first victory in a Grand Tour.
The pair broke away in a twisting finishing circuit on Mairena del Aljarafe’s narrow streets before Stybar outduelled his Belgian rival. German Robert Wagner was third in the 205.9km leg from Almendralejo.
Following the last relatively flat stage before three days of mountain climbing, Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali continues to lead overall with a 3 second advantage over the US’ Chris Horner.
Irishman Nicolas Roche is eight seconds off the pace in third.
Stybar, a former double world cyclo-cross champion, said beating Gilbert had been “really difficult.”
“I didn’t launch a perfect sprint, but I still won. Whether you win by one centimeter or one millimeter, that’s the most important thing,” the Omega Pharma-Quick Step rider told reporters.
Stybar said teammate and world time trial champion Tony Martin of Germany, who lost Thursday’s stage in the last seconds following a 175km solo breakaway, had inspired him.
“Sitting round the dinner table last night, we all felt sad he hadn’t won, but motivated too,” the Czech said.
Stybar was adamant that his fourth victory of this year and first Grand Tour stage win could not make up for the agony he felt after the Paris-Roubaix classic this year, when a collision with a spectator 15km from the finish wrecked his chances of a top-three result.
“Paris-Roubaix is in April next year and that’s where I’ll get my revenge,” he said.
Stybar was among several riders who criticized Friday’s finish for being too risky.
“With so many sharp turns and cobblestones, and 200 riders all going at full speed, it was dangerous,” he explained.
One top contender, Ireland’s Dan Martin, crashed in the last 10km when he hit a hole in the road. He was taken to hospital for a checkup on injuries after completing the course in 116th place.