AFP Aubisque, France
Dutch rider Robert Gesink claimed the queen 14th stage of the Tour of Spain yesterday as Chris Froome held off a series of attacks by race leader Nairo Quintana.
Gesink, who missed the Tour de France in July after suffering a head trauma and memory loss due to a heavy crash in the Tour of Switzerland, crossed the line in a time of 5hrs 43min 24secs to see off France’s Kenny Elissonde and Russian Egor Silin.
Froome and Quintana finished 1min 47sec further back as the Brit neutralised multiple attempts by the Colombian to extend his 54sec lead in the general classification.
The big winner of the day was Britain’s Simon Yates as he finished over a minute ahead of Froome and Quintana in fifth on the stage to move up to fourth overall.
Yates’s ORICA-BikeExchange teammate Esteban Chaves climbed to third, 2min 1sec behind his compatriot Quintana following the gruelling 195.6km ride from Urdax to Aubisque in the Pyrenees between Spain and France.
However, Alejandro Valverde, Quintana’s Movistar partner, had a day to forget as the 36-year-old slipped from third to 19th overall after finishing nearly 11 minutes back.
Three-time Vuelta winner Alberto Contador also lost another 20 seconds on Froome and Quintana to slip to sixth overall, behind Froome’s Sky teammate Leopold Konig.
“So far it has been a tough season but now I really feel I am back,” said Gesink, whose season’s plans were disrupted by his crash in Switzerland.
“We escaped with a really big group. I wasn’t sure if I could do this, but in the end I kept fighting. I couldn’t feel my legs but at the end it was enough.”
Froome hard to shake
After the leaders took it easy on the marathon 213.4km 13th stage on Friday, finishing nearly 35 minutes behind stage winner Valerio Conti, the racing was back on in a brutal stage that included three category one climbs before the final special category 16.5km summit finish up Col d’Aubisque.
In a recurring theme of this year’s Vuelta, Gesink was part of a huge breakaway group of 41 riders and stayed safely out of reach of the general classification favourites.
Yates made the most significant move of the day as he attacked 40km from the finish with ORICA-BikeExchange using their riders in the breakaway to help the stage six winner open up a sizeable advantage on the red jersey group.
Quintana made his first attack eight kilometres from the finish, but found Froome impossible to distance as he failed to gain the increased advantage he has admitted he needs to hold onto the lead after an individual time trial on stage 19.
“If we can get a bigger difference (before the time trial) it would be ideal to be able to prepare for the rest of the stages more comfortably before Madrid,” said Quintana.
Victory in the 2014 Giro d’Italia is Quintana’s only Grand Tour win to date, but he tends to perform better in the third week of the gruelling 21-stage events.
Quintana also skipped the Olympics to prepare for the Vuelta, whilst Froome picked up bronze in the time trial and finished 12th in the road race in Rio.
Froome is trying to become the first man in 38 years to win the Tour de France and Vuelta in the same year. Quintana finished third in July’s Tour.
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