Luxembourg’s Frank Schleck won Monday’s 16th stage of Spain’s Vuelta at Alto Ermita de Alba with another veteran, Spaniard Joaquim ‘Purito’ Rodriguez, taking the leader’s red jersey.
Schleck, 35, the older brother of former Tour de France winner Andy Schleck, came home alone after outsprinting his final challenger, Colombian Rodolfo Torres, 3km from the line following a long breakaway in the mountains.
“I’m very happy, the last few months have been very difficult for me,” said Schleck who missed the Tour de France because of a knee problem and was quickly struggling in the overall standings in the Vuelta.
Rodriguez, who has twice finished third overall in his home Grand Tour, took the lead by just a second ahead of overnight leader Italy’s Fabio Aru, who is seeking to go one better than his runners-up spot at this year’s Giro d’Italia.
Indeed the race seems set for a thrilling denouement as the top eight are separated by just three minutes with the race finishing on Sunday.
However, 36-year-old Rodriguez does not regard Aru as his main danger but young Dutchman Tom Dumoulin, who wore the overall leader’s jersey earlier in the race and despite not being a climbing specialist has limited the damage to such an extent he is only 1minute 51seconds adrift of the Spaniard.
His position appears even stronger as after Tuesday’s rest day comes the individual time-trial, a speciality of the 24-year-old Dumoulin who was third in the world championships last year.
“This time-trial is going to be very complicated,” admitted Rodriguez of the stage which is 38.7km long.
“Dumoulin seems to be in great shape.
“Once he is rested he will be totally focused on posting a superb time.
“Maybe he is now the big favourite to win the Vuelta.”
For Dumoulin, whose best performance this year came in finishing third in the Tour of Switzerland, it was more a sense of achievement in having come through Monday’s stage, which consisted of seven climbs, relatively unscathed and still in contention.
“My objective was to lose as little time as possible (on Monday),” said Dumoulin.
“This stage was for me more important that the time-trial in Burgos (venue for Wednesday’s stage).” – Agence France-Presse