Jens Keukeleire won stage 12 of the Vuelta a Espana as Nairo Quintana retained the leaders’ red jersey ahead of Chris Froome.
The 193.2km stage from Los Corrales de Buelna to Bilbao ended in a much-reduced sprint finish, and Orica-BikeExchange’s 27-year-old Norwegian Keukeleire took victory ahead of Etixx-QuickStep’s Maxime Bouet and Trek-Segafredo’s Fabio Felline for his first Grand Tour stage win.
“It’s my first Grand Tour victory, something very special, my family came here to Bilbao and that makes it even better,” the 27-year-old told cyclingnews.com.
“We didn’t really commit after the last climb to make everything come back to a bunch sprint, but this morning in the team meeting, they’d said I could give it a go if the stage was working out that way, and I’m just glad it did.”
The main protagonists in the general classification battle were not far behind, with Quintana’s team-mate Alejandro Valverde taking eighth place on the day.
Quintana crossed the line 26th, five places behind Froome, but with no time splits in the pack there was no change in the battle for red. Quintana leads Froome by 54 seconds after Froome’s stage 11 victory in Pena Cabarga on Wednesday.
Froome’s team-mates Peter Kennaugh and David Lopez were part of the day’s breakaway, but the group splintered on the second of two laps of a circuit around Bilbao, which included the category two climb of Alto el Vivero.
IAM Cycling’s Dries Devenyns launched a late bid for glory as a spritely looking Alberto Contador of Tinkoff led the contenders up the climb, but it all came back together on the streets of the city before Keukeleire made his move in the sprint.
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