VEJER DE LA FRONTERA, Spain (AP) Former champion Alejandro Valverde won the fourth stage of the Spanish Vuelta on Tuesday, while Colombian Esteban Chaves protected the leader's jersey for a third day.
The 35-year-old Spanish veteran perfectly timed his late charge on the final uphill push and held off Peter Sagan to keep the Slovak from claiming a second straight stage. Valverde crossed the finish line of the 209.6-kilometer (130.2-mile) route from Estepona to Vejer de la Frontera in 5 hours, 7 minutes and 30 seconds.
Valverde, who won the three-week Grand Tour in 2009 and finished this year's Tour de France in third place, moved up in the general classification from seventh to fifth place, 25 seconds behind Chaves.
Valverde opened up a 15-second gap over Tour winner and race favorite Chris Froome, who remained 40 seconds off Chaves' pace.
Nairo Quintana, Valverde's Movistar teammate, stayed 36 seconds behind Chaves.
The long stage in sunny southern Spain was largely flat, except for the last four kilometers when it climbed through narrow streets.
Valverde said the only reconnaissance of the course he had had time to do was via Google Maps.
''We saw that it was a demanding finish and it could be good for me,'' he said. ''I kept my cool and waited because I knew the final 500 meters (yards) were very tough, and I chose my moment to strike.''
Six riders broke away early in the stage and opened up a gap of over 13 minutes, but the peloton swallowed up the last two with 11 kilometers (6.8 miles) left.
Americans Tejay Van Garderen and Andrew Talansky were involved in a minor pileup at slow speeds as the peloton squeezed around a curve with around 33 kilometers (20.5 miles) to go. They both managed to rejoin the pack before the finish.
Chaves will wear the red jersey on Wednesday's fifth stage, a flat 167.3-kilometer (103.9-mile) route from Rota to Alcala de Guadaira.
''The last climb was hard and I was nervous, but my team put me at the front,'' said Chaves, who rides for Orica GreenEdge. ''The key is to believe. I have, after all, worn the jersey for three days.''