Froome keeps his lead entering decisive Spanish Vuelta stage

Froome keeps his lead entering decisive Spanish Vuelta stage”

The Tour de France victor survived the vicious slopes of the Angliru - on which Alberto Contador secured the final mountain stage win of his career - and in so doing became the first rider to achieve the Tour-Vuelta double since the Spanish race was moved to its current place on the calendar in 1995.

By sticking the Vuelta's hardest climb at the end of its shortest stage on the penultimate day of the race, the organisers weren't exactly being subtle about their intentions: to keep the race in the balance right up to the final weekend.

Stage 20 of La Vuelta is the deciding stage of who will win this year's tour. Froome is now contemplating going on to the world time trial championship in Bergen on 20 September - he will decide in the next few days depending on how he recovers from one of the hardest Vueltas in recent years.

"We did our best to catch Alberto but he was too strong", said Froome.

Froome paid tribute to the Spanish two-time Tour champion, saying: "Today was an extremely fitting way for him to say goodbye".

Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku vies with Stoke City defender Kurt Zouma during their English Premier League football match at the Bet365 Stadium in Stoke-on-Trent central England

Nibali was among those left trailing in his wake as Froome attacked in the final 500m of a summit finish to Benitachell to open up a 36-second lead at the top of the standings. He brings so much to the races.

Contador, a three-time Vuelta victor, had attacked on the early slopes of the final climb to the delight of the locals. The move shed all but the hardiest riders from Froome's group heading up the category-one Alto del Cordal, only for Nibali to fall on the descent down the wet road and needing help from a teammate to make up the lost time.

Bahrain-Merida's Ivan Garcia, conscious that Spain is running out of time to avoid a repeat of 1996 - the only other time in the 72-year history there has been no home stage victor in the Vuelta - attacked on the final climb but was soon joined by AG2R La Mondiale's Romain Bardet. Marc Soler, who was at that point leading the stage, and David de la Cruz also crashed on the same descent.

The Spaniard, 34, pushed clear in the final 6km. Alberto Contador is one of the cyclists to watch in this stage for he is expected to do his best to end his cycling career in the big tour like this. Their effort enabled the Briton to extend his lead on Nibali to 2min 15sec, with Zakarin overtaking Kelderman for third, and Contador moving into fourth overall. For three weeks the main GC contenders had taken each other on at every opportunity, fighting for every last second, day after day.

However, fourth place was good enough for Froome to gain an early 22-second advantage on closest challenger Vincenzo Nibali - a deficit the Italian never overturned. That same day, Chris Froome (Team Sky) took the red leader's jersey, which he has defended for 17 stages and will wear into Madrid on Sunday.

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