Updated: Mitchelton-Scott rider Simon Yates finished Stage 18 of the Vuelta a Espana at the same time as nearest rival Alejandro Valverde of team Movistar on Thursday afternoon.
Yates holds a lead of 25 seconds over Valverde, with just two racing stages to go prior to Sunday’s largely commemorative 100.9km roll into Madrid.
Showdown In Andorra
All eyes will now be on the 26yo Brit and 38yo Spaniard as they prepare for Friday’s showdown in the mountainous Principality of Andorra. A route of 154.4 km, most of the stage will be raced on a gradual incline before the summit finish and final 17.5 km climb that averages 6.3%.
Earlier: Red jersey wearer Simon Yates of Mitchelton-Scott successfully defended his lead at Stage 17 of the Vuelta a Espana overnight, putting the Aussie outfit a step closer to their maiden Grand Tour victory.
Second-placed Alejandro Valverde of Movistar did manage to claw back some time from the young Brit, while Nairo Quintana lost almost a minute on the final climb and later conceded that Valverde is indeed Movistar’s best-placed rider to do battle with Yates for the overall win.
Simon Yates said the Aussie outfit employed their ‘secret weapon’ of Adam Yates over the final kilometres of the tough stage.
“That’s why we’ve been saving him for this final section of the race – and Jack (Haig) was around the mark also,” he said.
“The whole team were there today, and they did a fantastic job.”
‘All In All, A Good Day’
Yates said that while he conceded several seconds to Valverde in the final sprint to the line, he put time into several other riders.
“So all in all it was a good day,” he said. “We expect aggressive, attacking racing from Valverde and Movistar – I don’t think he knows any other way to ride and he has a very strong team around him. Of all the stages left I was most afraid of this one but there’s still a lot of hard racing to come. Tomorrow should be a sprint day and we can hopefully take it a bit easier … and then we have Andorra. I think those stages will suit me better than today.”
General Classification after Stage 18
1. Simon Yates (Mitchelton-SCOTT) 69:05:34
2. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +0:25
3. Enric Mas (Quick-Step-Floors) +1:22