LA ZUBIA, Spain (AP) Alejandro Valverde of Spain surged forward to win the sixth stage of the Spanish Vuelta and take the overall lead on Thursday.
The 31-year-old Movistar rider climbed to the finish line in 4 hours, 35 minutes, 27 seconds, just ahead of Christopher Froome of Britain and Spain's Alberto Contador, who both finished in the same time.
Two-time Vuelta winner Valverde takes the overall lead on 22 hours, 48 minutes, 8 seconds, ahead of Nairo Quintana of Colombia who is 15 seconds behind and Contador who is 18 seconds back. Fourth-place Joaquin Rodriguez was eight seconds back.
Race conditions along the a 167-kilometer (104 miles) ride from Benalmadena to La Zubia were very hot, reaching close to 40 degrees Centigrade (104 Farenheit), and riders were seen drinking and pouring water over themselves regularly.
Rodriguez pushed forward with 600 meters to go but Valverde and Froome kept pace, with Quintana lagging behind in the heat.
''Although I've won, it's very difficult to have a good time in this heat,'' said Valverde. ''I was maintaining a good rhythm and when Rodriguez broke I went after him and had enough strength to finish him off.''
Just after the category-two Alto de Zafarraya climb, 85 kilometers into the race, Pim Ligthart and Lluis Mas broke away from the pack and established a 14-minute lead.
Mas gave up trying to keep up with Lighart with four kilometers to go and the pack overtook the breakaways on the final ascent, 2.5 kilometers before the finish.
''I couldn't have imagined finishing among the first 10 riders and look, I nearly challenged for a stage victory,'' said Contador, who fractured his right shin in a crash during the 10th stage of the Tour de France on July 15.
Friday's stage is a hilly 169 kilometer (105 mile) ride from Alhendin to Alcaudete and is expected to be raced in hot conditions.
The 21-stage race ends in Santiago de Compostela on Sept. 14.