Slovenia’s Matej Mohoric’s bold late attack saw him clinch Friday’s seventh stage of the Vuelta a Espana as Chris Froome safely retained the race leader’s red jersey.
Mohoric burst clear as a 14-man breakaway group tackled the final climb of the 207km route between Lliria and Cuenca, holding onto his lead until the finish.
“It’s incredible! It’s been a long time since my last big win. I’ve always worked hard and tried my best, but it is great to have a victory again,” said the 22-year-old Mohoric.
The Slovenian rider launched his attack on the descent of the Alto del Castillo 11km from the end to drop his fellow escapees and cross 16 seconds ahead of the chasing pack.
Poland’s Pawel Poljanski came second for the second time in as many days after finishing behind compatriot Tomasz Marczynski on Thursday. Spain’s Jose Joaquin Rojas was third.
“I tried to save as much energy as possible and then just waited until the final which was well suited to my skills,” explained Mohoric.
The peloton enjoyed a relatively leisurely afternoon as the breakaway bunch were left to contest the stage win, with Froome, Esteban Chaves and Nicolas Roche all finishing close to nine minutes back.
Four-time Tour de France champion Froome, bidding to become just the third cyclist to complete the Tour-Vuelta double in the same year, remains 11 seconds clear of Colombian Chaves with Irishman Roche 13 seconds adrift.
Saturday’s mid-mountain eighth stage, a 199.5km ride from Hellin, features a steep category one climb just before a sharp downhill to the finish in Xorret de Cati.
“It was another good day to tick off now and start thinking about tomorrow,” said Froome.
“Tomorrow has a really tough final, there will be ramps of over 18% on the climb before we descend to the finish, it’s definitely going to be a GC battle tomorrow.”
Former three-time Vuelta winner Alberto Contador predicts Froome will go on the offensive should the chance present itself to the Team Sky leader.
“I don’t think (Froome) is satisfied with the lead that he has, and even if he’s theoretically better in time trials, he has to distance his rivals and will try to attack if he has the chance,” said Contador, in 24th place at 3min 10sec in his final Grand Tour before retirement.