Magnus Cort Nielsen said it was a “big dream come true” after he claimed stage 18 of the Vuelta a Espana in a sprint finish on Thursday as Nairo Quintana maintained his handsome lead over Chris Froome.
The Dane took his first Grand Tour stage win from Germany’s Nikias Arndt and stage 16 winner Jempy Drucker in 4 hours, 54 minutes, 31 seconds for the 200.6km ride from Requena to Gandia.
Quintana finished alongside Froome in the same time to keep his 3 minute, 37 second lead ahead of yesterday’s crucial 37km time trial from Xabia to Calp.
Froome realistically has just two stages to overturn Quintana’s commanding advantage if he is to become the first man since 1978 to win the Tour de France and the Vuelta a Espana in the same year.
The Brit is expected to claw back significant time on the Colombian in the time trial, setting up a showdown on the special category climb to Alto Aitana today before tomorrow’s traditional parade around the center of Madrid for the race’s final stage.
“We have two important stages remaining and we need to be aware of any attack they could come up with on Saturday. Tomorrow is head-to-head and there is no help,” Quintana said. “To have the red jersey gives you that little bit more adrenalin to fight for what you want.”
Quintana had said early in the race he needed at least a three-minute lead to hold off Froome’s superior time-trial ability, but is hopeful of losing little more than a minute.
“I think more than a minute would be a lot. Now I am in very good condition and these type of time trials haven’t gone badly for me,” he said.
After another grueling mountain climb to the end of Wednesday’s 17th stage, the long, but mostly flat road to Gandia offered a chance for the sprinters to shine.
A five-man breakaway enjoyed a lead of six minutes, but were also kept in check by the peloton and reeled in with 11km remaining to set up a sprint finish.
Nielsen timed his run to the line perfectly to pick up Orica-BikeExchange’s third win of the race after Britain’s Simon Yates and Belgian Jens Keukeleire took stages six and 12 respectively.
“It’s a really big dream come true for me,” Nielsen said.
Orica have enjoyed a fine tour, with Esteban Chaves 20 seconds off Froome in third overall and Yates fifth in the general classification (GC).
“We normally try for the GC guys, but today I gave it a go and it’s amazing,” Nielsen added. “It’s my first Grand Tour ever, three wins and two guys up in the GC. It’s a nice team to be on at the moment.”
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