Italian Alessandro De Marchi claimed victory on the longest stage of this year’s Vuelta on Saturday as his compatriot Fabio Aru retained the leader’s red jersey.

De Marchi was part of a five-man breakaway group that was never in danger of being caught by the peloton and proved the strongest on the climb to the finish of the 215km stage from Vitoria to the ski station of Alto Campoo ahead of another Italian Salvatore Puccio and Spain’s Jose Joaquin Rojas.

Aru finished ninth on the stage to stay 26 seconds ahead of Joaquim Rodriguez with Tom Dumoulin now 49 seconds adrift of the leader in third.

De Marchi was also a stage winner at last year’s Vuelta and was the favourite on the final special category climb to a freezing finish line descended in fog.

“It was really difficult today, first just to get in the break and then obviously win the stage. Everything felt great,” De Marchi told Eurosport.

“I just had to wait for a position where I could make my strength show, so I let the others attack but in the end the waiting paid off and I won.”

Behind in the peloton, the general classification favourites stayed together for most of the climb, but Aru finally attacked as he tried to extend his advantage with a 38.7km time trial to come on Wednesday which should suit the likes of Dumoulin.

However, the Italian was reeled in by Nairo Quintana as the Colombian showed his best form in the mountains of the race so far to finish sixth on the stage and cut his deficit overall to three minutes.

Rodriguez finished a second ahead of Aru with Dumoulin 19 seconds back in 15th on the day.

The race continues with another mountain top finish on the 175.8km stage from Comillas to Sostres on Sunday.  – Agence France-Presse

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