Simon Yates has one more mountain test to pass in his bid for La Vuelta victory after stretching his lead by more than a minute with a superb ride on stage 19 to Andorra.
The British rider finished second to Frenchman Thibaut Pinot atop the Coll de la Rabassa, but successfully distanced his main rival Alejandro Valverde by over a minute to stretch his lead before Saturday’s short, punchy stage 20.
Yates, riding for Team Mitchelton-Scott, now leads by one minute 38 seconds from Movistar’s Valverde, with LottoNL-Jumbo’s Steven Kruijswijk a further 20 seconds back in third.
Yates, 26, is seeking his first Grand Tour victory, and what would be a fifth in succession for a British rider following Chris Froome’s Tour-Vuelta-Giro treble and Geraint Thomas’ Tour de France victory in July.
It was a second stage win for Groupama-FDJ’s Pinot following his success on stage 15, but all eyes were on the fight between Yates and Valverde.
Movistar made the first move, sending Nairo Quintana up the road early on the 17km final climb to try to tempt Yates out. Kruijswijk and his team-mate George Bennett quickly responded but Yates initially sat in.
Yates, who makes Andorra his home these days and knows the roads well, did not budge when Pinot attacked 11km from the summit but then made his own move with 10km left, and Valverde had no answer.
Quintana dropped back for his team-mate but their chase began to fall apart when the Colombian suffered a puncture, while Yates continued to drive the pace at the front.
The gap quickly grew and it was clear Valverde had no response as the likes of Wilko Kelderman and then Rigoberto Uran left him behind.
Yates was happy to let Pinot take stage honours, knowing he has put himself in the box seat to effectively secure victory on Saturday’s summit finish on the Coll de la Gallina in Santuario de Canolich before Sunday’s processional stage into Madrid.
He beat Valverde by 67 seconds on the road and picked up another six seconds in bonuses for second place.
- Press Association