Belgian veteran Philippe Gilbert on Wednesday claimed a second win at this year’s Vuelta a Espana as Slovenian Primoz Roglic remained in the lead, but with a new challenger.
Deceuninck-Quick-Step’s Gilbert, 37, backed up his victory on day 12 in Bilbao with a powerful finish on the flat in Guadalajara to pip Irish rider Sam Bennett.
Former winner Nairo Quintana, who started the day sixth overall, jumped to second.
The trio were part of a breakaway group of more than 40 riders to escape in windy conditions just after the start of Wednesday’s 17th stage.
After aggressive riding on the longest day of this year’s Vuelta, 14 survivors finished more than five minutes ahead of the pack.
“It was a very special one. I think it’s the kind of stage that will stay in history, because of the way we rode. It was crazy from the gun,” Gilbert said.
“Sometimes on the flat we even went at 75kph. Throughout my career I have never done this, and that after 17 years,” he added.
Race leader Roglic, who on Tuesday signed a new contract with Team Jumbo-Visma team, finished in the main pack with most of the other general standings rivals, including Alejandro Valverde and compatriot Tadej Pogacar, but was unhappy the team had to spend the day chasing.
“I made a mistake. I shouldn’t have been in the position I was — I should have been totally in front. Maybe we lost the battle today, but not the war,” Roglic said. “It’s still looking really good.”
Quintana rocketed to second, 2 minutes, 48 seconds behind Roglic and 56 seconds ahead of Valverde.
Quick-Step placed seven of their eight riders in the breakaway, which escaped in cross-tailwinds. They were rewarded with Gilbert’s 11th Grand Tour stage victory and with Briton James Knox breaking into the top 10 of the overall leaderboard.
Gilbert’s patient work paid off in the final moments.
Bennett, who had won two sprints earlier in the race, burst clear with 500m to go, but with 200m left Gilbert took the lead and finished two seconds ahead of the Bora-Hansgrohe rider.
Yesterday’s 177.5km mountainous stage 18 was to include four challenging climbs before arriving at Becerril de la Sierra, northwest of Madrid.