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Race leader pushes hard on final climb to distance Spanish rival

Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) took his second stage win of this year’s Vuelta a Espana on stage 18’s summit finish. The Frenchman benefited from a determined effort from race leader Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) who had worked hard to open up a significant gap on his closest rival, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) on the final climb.

The 154.4km stage from Lleida to Andorra was largely flat but with a 45-minute climb up the Coll de la Rabassa to finish. The climb was 17km at 6.6% but steeper for its first half and more gradual after that.

The breakaway riders were caught almost exactly at the start of it and with no previous climbs in the riders’ legs, the pace was high from the outset.

Nairo Quintana was first to attack after strong work from Movistar on the lower slopes and he was almost immediately followed by two LottoNL-Jumbo riders, George Bennett and Steven Kruijswijk. A little while later Thibaut Pinot bridged across and a short while after that, Yates followed.

“I’ve been living in Andorra for most of my professional career since 2015,” Yates had said prior to the stage. “I know the climbs very well.”

When Bennett faded and fell away, it was Yates who moved to the front of the small front group and he rode sufficiently hard that with just over 8km to go, Quintana was forced to drop back to help team-mate Valverde. The Colombian then almost immediately suffered a puncture.

Yates continued to push on at the front and with 3km to go, the gap to Valverde had expanded to a minute.

At about this point, Kruijswijk was dropped, but Pinot managed to sit tight, coming round Yates in the final few hundred metres to secure the stage win. The Briton could console himself with having finished 1m07s ahead of Valverde and he now leads the race by 1m38s with tomorrow’s mountain stage the only major challenge left for him to overcome.

Kruijswijk rolled in third and also moved up to third overall. Pinot rose from ninth to seventh.

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