Lucena - Switzerland's
Mathias Frank conquered a gruelling summit finish to win Wednesday's
17th stage of the Vuelta a Espana as overall leader Nairo Quintana
remained comfortably ahead of Chris Froome.
Frank was part of a large group of escapees who burst free of the
peloton early into the 177.5km stage from Castellon, with the
IAM Cycling rider pulling clear on the Alto Mas de la Costa to finish in
Team Sky's Leopold Konig was second, six seconds behind the Swiss, while Dutchman Robert Gesink of LottoNL-Jumbo came third.
"I'm super happy, I've been really close to this victory several
times," Frank, who finished in the top 10 on three previous stages of
this year's race, told Spanish TV channel Teledeporte.
"This season not much has worked for me. I came to this Vuelta to
have fun and at last I picked up my first win in two years. To win a
stage of a Grand Tour is a great feeling."
Colombian Quintana stayed 3:37 ahead of Tour de France champion
Froome as the top four in the general classification, which includes
Esteban Chaves and Alberto Contador, all crossed the line together over
three minutes behind the stage winner.
Frank, who finished a creditable eighth at last year's Tour de
France, found himself in a breakaway of 28 riders as the pack was
content to let them go with the lead group posing no threat to the red
The 29-year-old teamed up with Astana's Dario Cataldo to put distance
on their fellow escapees in the run-up to the concluding category one
climb, the first time it had featured on the Vuelta route.
With sections of the ascent topping out at over a 20 percent
gradient, Frank then dropped the Italian and went out alone on his way
to the finish, while Contador launched an attack of his own to try and
make up time on his GC rivals.
But Quintana and Froome, as well as Chaves, responded to the
three-time former Vuelta winner's advances and reeled the Spaniard back
in as the quartet finished 3:27 down on Frank.
"It's a spectacular type of stage but it's difficult for those who are trying to make up time," said Contador.
As Quintana edged closer to adding a Vuelta crown to his 2014 Giro
d'Italia victory, he admitted he was pleased with how the stage played
"I didn't attack and I defended myself well. We must continue like that for the remaining days," he said.
Thursday's stage, which has just the one category-two climb, is a
relatively flat 200.6km trek from Requena to the coastal town of Gandia,
south of Valencia.
Froome's fading hopes of overhauling Quintana rest largely on his
performance in Friday's 37km time trial, with a final summit finish to
come on Saturday ahead of Sunday's procession into Madrid.
Results from the 17th stage of Vuelta a Espana, a 177.5km ride from Castellon to Llucena on Wednesday:
1. Mathias Frank (SUI/IAM) 4hr 34min 38sec, 2. Leopold Konig
(CZE/SKY) at 0:06, 3. Robert Gesink (NED/LNL) 0:11, 4. Peio Bilbao
(ESP/CJR) 0:14, 5. Dario Cataldo (ITA/AST) 0:16, 6. Jose Herrada
(ESP/MOV) 0:29, 7. Axel Domont (FRA/ALM) 0:48, 8. Bart De Clercq
(BEL/LOT) 0:57, 9. Kristijan Durasek (CRO/LAM) 1:02, 10. Haimar Zubeldia
24. Alberto Contador (ESP/TIN) 3:27, 25. Christopher Froome (GBR/SKY)
s.t., 26. Nairo Quintana (COL/MOV) s.t., 27. Esteban Chaves (COL/ORI)
s.t., 34. Simon Yates (GBR/ORI) 4:23, 36. Alejandro Valverde (ESP/MOV)
1. Nairo Quintana (COL/Movistar) 69hr 35min 32sec, 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.
16. Alejandro Valverde (ESP/MOV) 13:48