• Belgium's Thomas De Gendt (L) of team LottoSoudal celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win Stage 19 (AFP)Source: AFP
Thomas de Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) fought off late attacks from the likes of Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) and Nicholas Roche (BMC Racing) to claim a well-deserved win in Stage 19 of the Vuelta a Espana.
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Cycling Central

9 Sep 2017 - 8:06 AM  UPDATED 9 Sep 2017 - 8:09 AM

With the win, de Gendt claimed his third stage victory on Grand Tours to join the wins he has previously claimed at the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia.

Always aggressive, the Belgian hard man joined the early 27-man breakaway and eventually dominated his companions to take out the win in the streets of Gijon.

Roche led out the sprint, jumping clear with almost a kilometre to go and when Ivan Garcia Cortina (Bahrain-Merida) came around the Irishman it looked as though Spain’s long wait for a home win in this year’s Vuelta was over. But De Gendt proved stronger, and as the Bahrain-Merida rider began to drift backwards the Belgian came through the centre of the road, with a late sprint from Jarlinson Pantano (Trek-Segafredo) taking second place.

De Gendt spoke of trying to anticipate the moves in the breakaway and how he strategised to end up taking out the win.

“I started on the first row this morning, because I knew the breakaway once again had a chance today," said de Gendt. "With 60 kilometres to go, I was the first to try to make an early selection in the breakaway, as I was hoping to continue with a smaller group.

"I knew Bardet was too strong on the climbs, so I mainly focused on Jungels. In the finale we had to chase down Bardet, Garcia, Rui Costa and Roche, who had gone clear on the last steep climb, but we worked well together to close the gap.

"I know that I’m not slow in a sprint with a reduced number of riders, but I thought that I’d better ride the sprint of my life if I wanted to take the stage win. Garcia surprised me a little, but then he slowed down and I won by a comfortable margin.”

Until the sprint finish, the stage had ebbed and followed with several riders looking on course for victory. 19 riders had been joined by nine others during the opening kilometres, with Bardet, Garcia, Roche and Rui Costa (UAE Team Emirates) all making bids for the stage victory. The final climb was the final chance for the pure climbers to make a difference and it saw a stinging attack from Garcia but he was caught on the descent before a larger group reformed inside the closing kilometres.

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Chris Froome (Team Sky) retained the race lead after his team had to fight to claw back a move from the indefatigable attacker, Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo), to make sure their leader will tackle the infamous ascent of the Angliru with the red jersey on his shoulders.

With two stages to go, and Saturday’s stage finish on the Angrilu looming on the horizon, Froome leads nearest rival Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) by 1:37 and Wilco Kelderman (Team Sunweb) at 2:17. Contador’s hopes of a podium in his final race before retirement rest in fifth place, 3:44 off the race lead. The Spaniard’s confidence will have been boosted by the fact that he quickly dispatched with fourth-placed Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) on the final climb. The Russian tried to match Contador, but was dropped before the summit and forced to wait for Team Sky and the remaining GC riders.