Castro de Herville, Sep 4 (AFP): AG2R-Citroen rider Clement Champoussin ambushed the favourites and surged to victory on the penultimate stage of the Vuelta a Espana on Saturday as Primoz Roglic extended his lead atop the overall standings.
The 23-year-old Frenchman Champoussin only turned professional a year ago, and with this first win, he raised a solitary finger in celebration before thumping his chest at the finish line.
He attacked in the final kilometre and none of the top contenders were prepared to lead a chase.
“I hung on….and a little way from the finish I was lucky they looked at each other,” Champoussin said after the main contenders appeared unwilling to follow him when he attacked.
“It was a bit tough, but the favourites were tired too.”
Slovenian double defending champion Roglic of Jumbo-Visma leads the Vuelta by 2min 38sec from Movistar rider Enric Mas, while Australian Jack Haig of Bahrain Victorious climbed to third ahead of the final day individual time-trial.
Pacing himself patiently all the way from the seaside start at Sanxenxo, Roglic beat his main rivals at the end as he followed the winner over the line with Yates and Mas on his tail.
Sunday’s final stage is an arduous 33km run to Santiago de Compostella. It will be a test of nerves for the easily-spooked Slovenian rider, despite his large lead as cycling history is littered with last day tales of woe, not least his own.
Roglic is the Olympic time-trial champion, but famously lost a major lead a time-trial on the final weekend of the 2020 Tour de France.
With five short but tough mountain passes on a tough stage in Galicia on Saturday, South African Ryan Gibbons had a gut-wrenching afternoon as his long-range solo escape wilted with less than 2km to go.
Miguel Angel Lopez of Movistar had a bad day, allowing Haig to climb to third and Ineos’s Adam Yates climbed to fourth. Egan Bernal also slid way down the standings.
“I tried to drop them all a few times,” said the Briton Yates, who joined Ineos this season with the Vuelta his first Grand Tour with them.
Giro champion and 2019 Tour de France winner Bernal also let slip the under-25’s white jersey to Swiss Gino Mader, also of Bahrain, with the Colombian saying at the finish line he would not push to win it back on Sunday.
“We did what we could today. We tried to blow the race open and we succeeded at least in that,” said Bernal, who professes to care more about racing than winning.
Australian Michael Storer of the DSM team extended his King of the Mountains lead after taking part in an early attack. The 24-year-old Storer won stage seven and ten, stealing the thunder from teammate Romain Bardet.