Sept 8, 2016 – Denmark’s Magnus Cort Nielsen claimed stage 18 of the Vuelta a Espana in a sprint finish Thursday as Nairo Quintana maintained his lead over Chris Froome. Nielsen took his first Grand Tour stage win from Germany’s Nikias Arndt and stage 16 winner Jean-Pierre Drucker in 4hrs 54min 31secs for the 200.6km ride
from Requena to Gandia.

AFP/Yuzuru Sunada

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Quintana finished alongside Froome in the same time to maintain his 3min 37sec lead with just three stages remaining ahead of Friday’s crucial 37km time-trial from Xabia to Calp. After another grueling mountain climb to the end of Wednesday’s 17th stage, the long but mostly flat road to Gandia offered a chance for the sprinters to shine.

A five-man breakaway enjoyed a lead of six minutes, but were also kept in check by the peloton and reeled in with 11km remaining to set up a sprint finish. Nielsen timed his run to the line perfectly to pick up Orica-BikeExchange’s third win of the race after Britain’s Simon Yates and Belgian Jens Keukeleire took stages six and 12 respectively.

“It’s a really big dream come true for me,” said Nielsen. Orica have enjoyed a fine tour with leader Esteban Chaves 20 seconds off Froome in third overall and Yates fifth in the general classification.

“We normally try for the GC guys, but today I gave it a go and it’s amazing,” added Nielsen. “It’s my first Grand Tour ever, three wins and two guys up in the GC. It’s a nice team to be on at the moment.”

Froome has just two stages to overturn Quintana’s commanding lead if he is to become the first man to win the Tour de France and the Vuelta in the same year since 1978. The Brit is expected to claw back significant time on the Colombian in the time trial setting up a showdown on the special category climb to Alto Aitana on Saturday before Sunday’s traditional parade around the centre of Madrid for the race’s final stage.

Results from the 18th stage of the Vuelta a Espana: a 200.6km from Requena to Gandia.

1. Magnus Nielsen (DEN/ORI) 4hr 54min 31sec
2. Nikias Arndt (GER/GIA) s.t.
3. Jempy Drucker (LUX/BMC) s.t.
4. Daniele Bennati (ITA/TIN) s.t.
5. Jonas Van Genechten (BEL/IAM) s.t.
6. Kiel Reijnen (USA/TRE) s.t.
7. Michael Schwarzmann (GER/BOA) s.t.
8. Gianni Meersman (BEL/ETI) s.t.
9. Kristian Sbaragli (ITA/DDT) s.t.
10. Lorrenzo Manzin (FRA/FDJ) s.t.

Selected others: 28. Nairo Quintana (COL/MOV) 0:00, 29. Esteban Chaves (COL/ORI) 0:00, 32.
Christopher Froome (GBR/SKY) 0:00

Overall
1. Nairo Quintana (COL/Movistar) 74hr 30min 03sec
2. Christopher Froome (GBR/SKY) at 3:37
3. Esteban Chaves (COL/ORI) 3:57
4. Alberto Contador(ESP/TIN) 4:02
5. Simon Yates (GBR/ORI) 6:03
6. Andrew Talansky (USA/CAN) 7:34
7. Samuel Sanchez (ESP/BMC) 8:12
8. Davide Formolo (ITA/CAN) 8:13
9. Michele Scarponi (ITA/AST) 8:28
10. David De la Cruz (ESP/ETI) 8:52