MONTE CASTROVE, Spain (AP) Fabio Aru of Italy surged to win the Spanish Vuelta's hilly 18th stage, while Alberto Contador kept the leader's red jersey on Thursday with three stages remaining.
Chris Froome finished one second behind Aru, gaining time and improving to second overall, and Alejandro Valverde came third 13 seconds behind.
Froome, who charged up the category-2 Monte Castrove ascent with Aru on his tail, was one minute, 19 seconds behind Contador, having overtaken Valverde, who was third overall, 1:32 down.
''I'm really happy because I decided to challenge from three-and-a-half kilometers out despite having been told it would be really tough from that point,'' said Aru, who also won Stage 11 on Sept. 3.
Although Contador looked tired and conceded time to Froome, he appears totally recovered from the broken shin that forced him to retire from the Tour de France on July 15.
''It was a complicated ascent, with many rhythm changes, and though I would have preferred not to have lost time overall, I don't think the loss has been too major,'' Contador said. ''Saturday's stage will be defined purely by physical fitness and I'm hoping these seconds I've lost today won't turn out to have been too important.''
The riders climbed up Monte Castrove twice, with bonus points available at the bottom of the descent. Keen to make up time, Froome sprinted hard there and despite there being some confusion among riders over the exact position of the sprint banner, the British rider gained two seconds before powering up the final ascent.
At that point, Froome was hemmed in by Movistar riders, but Valverde was lagging too far behind to be able to challenge him.
The 19th stage on Friday is also hilly, 180.5 kilometers (112 miles) from Salvaterra do Mino to Cangas do Morrazo, and featuring two category-2 ascents.
The race ends on Sunday after another mountain stage and an individual time trial.